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PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e57603. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057603. Epub 2013 Feb 25.

Identification of sensitive serum microRNA biomarkers for radiation biodosimetry.

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  • 1Department of Radiation Oncology, Comprehensive Cancer Center, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio, United States of America.


Exposure to ionizing radiation through environmental, occupational or a nuclear reactor accident such as the recent Fukushima Daiichi incident often results in major consequences to human health. The injury caused by radiation can manifest as acute radiation syndromes within weeks in organs with proliferating cells such as hematopoietic and gastrointestinal systems. Cancers, fibrosis and degenerative diseases are also reported in organs with differentiated cells, months or years later. Studies conducted on atom bomb survivors, nuclear reactor workers and animal models have shown a direct correlation of these effects with the absorbed dose. Physical dosimeters and the available radio-responsive biologics in body fluids, whose responses are rather indirect, have limitations to accurately evaluate the extent of post exposure damage. We have used an amplification-free, hybridization based quantitative assay utilizing the nCounter multiplex platform developed by nanoString Technologies to compare the levels of over 600 miRNAs in serum from mice irradiated at a range of 1 to 12 Gy at 24 and 48 hr time points. Development of a novel normalization strategy using multiple spike-in oligonucleotides allowed accurate measurement of radiation dose and time dependent changes in serum miRNAs. The response of several evolutionarily conserved miRNAs abundant in serum, were found to be robust and sensitive in the dose range relevant for medical triage and in patients who receive total body radiation as preparative regimen for bone marrow transplantation. Notably, miRNA-150, abundant in lymphocytes, exhibited a dose and time dependent decrease in serum, which we propose as a sensitive marker indicative of lymphocyte depletion and bone marrow damage. Our study has identified several markers useful for evaluation of an individual's response by minimally invasive methods, relevant to triage in case of a radiation accident and evaluation of toxicity and response during and after therapeutic radiation.

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