Background and purpose:
Tissue-sparing due to repopulation is expected to occur in epithelial cell populations during a course of fractionated radiotherapy (RT). Recently, we established, in the clinical setting of RT, the dose response relationship of subtherapeutic doses in terms of epidermal keratinocyte loss in the basal layer throughout 7 weeks of RT. Surprisingly, in the case of daily dose fractions of 1.10Gy, the keratinocyte loss per dose unit increases over the last 4 weeks of the treatment period rather than being constant or decreasing. The aim of the present study is to elaborate on the issue of germinal keratinocyte response to daily dose fractions of 2.0Gy for 5 weeks. Here, we present assessments of keratinocyte loss, DSB foci, growth arrest, mitosis and apoptosis using methods earlier described by us.
Materials and Methods:
In total 240 skin punch biopsies, collected from 31 breast cancer patients, before, during and after postmastectomy radiotherapy given to the thoracic wall with daily 2.0Gy fractions for 5 weeks, were investigated. The dose response for basal keratinocyte density of the interfollicular epidermis was determined. The DNA damage response of keratinocytes was studied by immunostaining for molecular markers of DNA DSBs, growth arrest, mitosis and cell death using 53BP1, p21, phospho-H3 and γH2AX (apoptosis), respectively. The stainings of keratinocytes were counted manually or by digital image analysis.
The dose-response relationship for the loss of basal keratinocytes over 5 weeks of RT revealed a biphasic shape. An initial radioresistant phase was followed by an increase in radiosensitivity in the second part of RT. The rate of keratinocyte loss reflected the significant changes determined by 53BP1 and γH2AX foci 30 minutes after dose fractions over the treatment period. The highest induction of DSB foci per cell was observed towards the end of treatment. The increase in the fraction of p21 stained cells was also more prominent during the second half of the treatment as compared to the first period of RT. The apoptotic frequency was generally low but increased dramatically towards the end of RT. The mitotic cell number was significantly suppressed over 5 weeks, and did not recover during the weekend treatment-gaps. Notably, the mitotic rate increased more than threefold compared to unexposed skin, 2 weeks after the end of RT, followed by a rapid decline one week later.
The dose response for germinal keratinocyte loss as a result of daily dose fractions of 2.0Gy over 5 weeks treatment deviates significantly from an exponential curve fit. The effectiveness of each dose fraction was less in the first half of the treatment when compared with the second half. No accelerated repopulation could be revealed over the 5 weeks, but was evident after completion of radiotherapy. The changes in keratinocyte response were associated with changes in induction of DSB foci and p21 protein expression, as well as apoptotic events over the treatment period. In particular, we highlight the existence of pre-mitotic apoptosis, which increased significantly towards the end of 5 weeks RT. These findings suggest that it is necessary to reconsider the current conceptions regarding DNA repair, cell-cycle redistribution and repopulation of normal epithelial cells to a long-lasting courses of fractionated radiotherapy.