The immune system plays a vital role in cancer therapy, especially with the advent of immunotherapy. Radiation therapy induces iatrogenic immunosuppression referred to as radiation-induced lymphopenia (RIL). RIL correlates with significant decreases in the overall survival of cancer patients. Although the etiology and severity of lymphopenia are known, the mechanism(s) of RIL are largely unknown. We found that irradiation not only had direct effects on circulating lymphocytes but also had indirect effects on the spleen, thymus, and bone marrow. We found that irradiated cells traffic to the bone marrow and bring about the reduction of hematopoietic stem cells (HSC) and progenitor cells. Using mass cytometry analysis (CyTOF) of the bone marrow, we found reduced expression of CD11a, which is required for T cell proliferation and maturation. RNA Sequencing and gene set enrichment analysis of the bone marrow cells following irradiation showed down-regulation of genes involved in hematopoiesis. Identification of CD11a and hematopoietic genes involved in iatrogenic immune suppression can help identify mechanisms of RIL.
Keywords: lymphopenia; mass cytometry RNA sequencing; radiation.