In studies of electron and proton radiotherapy, ultrahigh dose rates of FLASH radiotherapy appear to produce fewer toxicities than standard dose rates while maintaining local tumor control. FLASH-proton radiotherapy (F-PRT) brings the spatial advantages of PRT to FLASH dose rates (>40 Gy/second), making it important to understand if and how F-PRT spares normal tissues while providing antitumor efficacy that is equivalent to standard-proton radiotherapy (S-PRT). Here we studied PRT damage to skin and mesenchymal tissues of muscle and bone and found that F-PRT of the C57BL/6 murine hind leg produced fewer severe toxicities leading to death or requiring euthanasia than S-PRT of the same dose. RNA-seq analyses of murine skin and bone revealed pathways upregulated by S-PRT yet unaltered by F-PRT, such as apoptosis signaling and keratinocyte differentiation in skin, as well as osteoclast differentiation and chondrocyte development in bone. Corroborating these findings, F-PRT reduced skin injury, stem cell depletion, and inflammation, mitigated late effects including lymphedema, and decreased histopathologically detected myofiber atrophy, bone resorption, hair follicle atrophy, and epidermal hyperplasia. F-PRT was equipotent to S-PRT in control of two murine sarcoma models, including at an orthotopic intramuscular site, thereby establishing its relevance to mesenchymal cancers. Finally, S-PRT produced greater increases in TGFβ1 in murine skin and the skin of canines enrolled in a phase I study of F-PRT versus S-PRT. Collectively, these data provide novel insights into F-PRT-mediated tissue sparing and support its ongoing investigation in applications that would benefit from this sparing of skin and mesenchymal tissues. SIGNIFICANCE: These findings will spur investigation of FLASH radiotherapy in sarcoma and additional cancers where mesenchymal tissues are at risk, including head and neck cancer, breast cancer, and pelvic malignancies.
©2021 The Authors; Published by the American Association for Cancer Research.