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Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2001 Jul 15;50(4):1013-20.

Extent and kinetics of recovery of occult spinal cord injury.

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Department of Radiation Oncology, the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, Houston, TX 77030, USA.



To obtain clinically useful quantitative data on the extent and kinetics of recovery of occult radiation injury in primate spinal cord, after a commonly administered elective radiation dose of 44 Gy, given in about 2 Gy per fraction.


A group of 56 rhesus monkeys was assigned to receive two radiation courses to the cervical and upper thoracic spinal cord, given in 2.2 Gy per fraction. The dose of the initial course was 44 Gy in all monkeys. Reirradiation dose was 57.2 Gy, given after 1-year (n = 16) or 2-year (n = 20) intervals, or 66 Gy, given after 2-year (n = 4) or 3-year (n = 14) intervals. Two animals developed intramedullary tumors before reirradiation and, therefore, did not receive a second course. The study endpoint was myeloparesis, manifesting predominantly as lower extremity weakness and decrease in balance, occurring within 2.5 years after reirradiation, complemented by histologic examination of the spinal cord. The data obtained were analyzed along with data from a previous study addressing single-course tolerance, and data from a preliminary study of reirradiation tolerance.


Only 4 of 45 monkeys completing the required observation period (2-2.5 years after reirradiation, 3-5.5 years total) developed myeloparesis. The data revealed a substantial recovery of occult injury induced by 44 Gy within the first year, and suggested additional recovery between 1 and 3 years. Fitting the data with a model, assuming that all (single course and reirradiation) dose-response curves were parallel, yielded recovery estimates of 33.6 Gy (76%), 37.6 Gy (85%), and 44.6 Gy (101%) of the initial dose, after 1, 2, and 3 years, respectively, at the 5% incidence (D(5)) level. The most conservative estimate, using a model in which it was assumed that there was no recovery between 1 and 3 years following initial irradiation and that the combined reirradiation curve was not necessarily parallel to the single-course curve, still showed an overall recovery equivalent to 26.8 Gy (61%). The spinal cords of symptomatic monkeys consistently revealed a mixture of white matter necrosis and vascular injury, but the majority of spinal cords of asymptomatic animals did not exhibit overt lesions detectable by light microscopy.


Combined analysis with the data of the previous studies yielded firm evidence that the spinal cord has a large capacity to recover from occult radiation injury induced by a commonly prescribed elective dose. This finding strengthens the rationale for selective use of radiotherapy to treat second primary tumors arising in previously irradiated tissues or late recurrences. However, some caution should be exercised in applying quantitative experimental data, because the length of follow-up in these experiments was limited to 2-2.5 years after reirradiation, whereas human myelopathy cases occasionally occur after longer latency. Because there is a large variation in long-term recovery among tissues, the tolerance of other tissues at risk should also be taken into account in prescribing therapy.

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