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Radiat Res. 2012 Feb;177(2):200-8. Epub 2011 Nov 11.

Ionizing radiation enhances esophageal epithelial cell migration and invasion through a paracrine mechanism involving stromal-derived hepatocyte growth factor.

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  • 1Division of Space Life Sciences, Universities Space Research Association, Houston, Texas 77058, USA.


Esophageal cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer death worldwide and the seventh leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. male population. Ionizing radiation exposure is a risk factor for development of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma, a histological subtype of esophageal cancer that is highly aggressive and is associated with poor patient prognosis. This study investigated the effects of ionizing radiation on the microenvironment and intercellular communication as it relates to esophageal carcinogenesis. We demonstrate that normal esophageal epithelial cells exhibited increased migration and invasion when cultured in the presence of irradiated stromal fibroblasts or with conditioned medium derived from irradiated stromal fibroblasts. Cytokine antibody arrays and ELISAs were used to identify hepatocyte growth factor (HGF) as an abundant protein that is secreted by esophageal fibroblasts at twofold increased levels in culture medium after γ irradiation. Reverse transcription qPCR analysis confirmed an approximately 50% increase in mRNA levels for HGF at 1 h in irradiated fibroblasts compared to unirradiated controls. Recombinant HGF stimulated increased wound healing, migration and invasion of esophageal epithelial cells, while blocking antibodies against HGF significantly decreased migration and invasion of epithelial cells in coculture with irradiated fibroblasts. Since HGF is known to direct cell migration, invasion and metastasis in a variety of tissues, including the esophagus, its modulation by ionizing radiation may have important implications for nontargeted pathways that influence radiation carcinogenesis in the esophagus.

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