Purpose: Mild temperature hyperthermia (MTH) increases blood flow and oxygenation in tumours. On the other hand, high-dose-per-fraction irradiation damages blood vessels, decreases blood flow and increases hypoxia in tumours. The radiation-induced hypoxia in tumours activates hypoxia-inducible factor-1α (HIF-1α) and its target genes, such as vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), promoting revascularization and recurrence. In the present study, we examined the hypothesis that MTH inhibits radiation-induced upregulation of HIF-1α and its target genes by increasing tumour oxygenation.
Materials and methods: FSaII fibrosarcoma tumours grown subcutaneously in the legs of C3H mice were used. Tumours were irradiated with 15 Gy using a 60Co irradiator or heated at 41 °C for 30 min using an Oncothermia heating unit. Blood perfusion and hypoxia in tumours were assessed with Hoechst 33342 and pimonidazole staining, respectively. Expression levels of HIF-1α and VEGF were determined using immunohistochemical techniques. Apoptosis of tumour cells was quantitated via TUNEL staining and the effects of treatments on tumour growth rate were assessed by measuring tumour diameters.
Results: Irradiation of FSaII tumours with a single dose of 15 Gy led to significantly decreased blood perfusion, increased hypoxia and upregulation of HIF-1α and VEGF. On the other hand, MTH at 41 °C for 30 min increased blood perfusion and tumour oxygenation, thereby suppressing radiation-induced HIF-1α and VEGF in tumours, leading to enhanced apoptosis of tumour cells and tumour growth delay.
Conclusion: MTH enhances the anti-tumour effect of high-dose irradiation, at least partly by inhibiting radiation-induced upregulation of HIF-1α.
Keywords: HIF-1α and VEGF; Mild hyperthermia; Oncothermia; high-dose irradiation of tumours.