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Clin Rev Bone Miner Metab. 2011 Mar;9(1):54-62.

Ionizing Radiation and Bone Loss: Space Exploration and Clinical Therapy Applications.

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Section of Molecular Medicine and Department of Radiation Oncology, Comprehensive Cancer Center, Wake Forest School of Medicine, Radiation Biology 405 NRC, Medical Center Blvd., Winston-Salem, NC 27157, USA


Damage to normal, nontumor bone tissue following therapeutic irradiation increases the risk of fracture among cancer patients. For example, women treated for various pelvic tumors have been shown to have a greater than 65% increased incidence of hip fracture by 5 years postradiotherapy. Another practical situation in which exposure to ionizing radiation may negatively impact skeletal integrity is during extended spaceflight missions. There is a limited understanding of how spaceflight-relevant doses and types of radiation can influence astronaut bone health, particularly when combined with the significant effects of mechanical unloading experienced in microgravity. Historically, negative effects on osteoblasts have been studied. Radiation exposure has been shown to damage osteoblast precursors. Damage to local vasculature has been observed, ranging from decreased lumen diameter to complete ablation within the irradiated volume, causing a state of hypoxia. These effects result in suppression of bone formation and a general state of low bone turnover. More recently, however, we have demonstrated in pre-clinical mouse models, a very rapid but transient increase in osteoclast activity after exposure to spaceflight and clinically relevant radiation doses. Combined with long-term suppression of bone formation, this skeletal damage may cause long-term deficits. This review will present a broad set of literature outlining our current set knowledge of both clinical therapy and space exploration exposure to ionizing radiation. Additionally, we will discuss prevention of the initial osteoclast-mediated bone loss, the need to promote normal bone turnover and long-term quality of bone tissue, and our hypothesized molecular mechanisms.

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