Purpose: To investigate the profile of biochemical and physiological changes induced in the rat spinal cord by radiation, over a period of 8 months.
Methods and materials: The thoraco-lumbar spinal cords of Fisher rats were irradiated to a dose of 15 Gy. The rats were then followed and killed at various times afterward. Serotonin (5-HT) and its major metabolite 5-hydroxyindole-3-acetic acid (5-HIAA) were assayed as well as prostaglandin synthesis. Microvessel permeability was assessed by quantitative evaluation of Evans blue dye extravasation.
Results: None of the rats developed neurologic dysfunction, and histologic examination revealed only occasional gliosis in the ventral white matter at 240 days after irradiation. Serotonin levels were unchanged at 2, 14, and 56 days after radiation but increased at 120 and 240 days in the irradiated cord segments when compared to both the nonirradiated thoracic and cervical segments (p < 0.01) and age-matched controls (p < 0.03). The calculated utilization ratio of serotonin (5-HIAA/5-HT) remained unchanged. Immediately after radiation (at 3 and 24 h) an abrupt but brief increase in the synthesis of prostaglandin-E2 (PGE2), thromboxane (TXB2), and prostacyclin [6 keto-PGF1 alpha (6KPGF)] was noted, which returned to normal at 3 days. This was followed after 7 and 14 days by a significant fall off in synthesis of all three prostaglandins. Thereafter, at 28, 56, 120, and 240 days, escalated production of thromboxane followed, while prostacyclin synthesis remained markedly reduced (-88% of control level at 240 days). Up to 7 days after radiation the calculated TXB2/6KPGF ratio remained balanced, regardless of the observed abrupt early fluctuations in their rate of synthesis. Later, between 7 and 240 days after radiation, a significant imbalance was present which became more pronounced over time. In the first 24 h after radiation, a 104% increase in microvessel permeability was observed which returned to normal by 3 days. Normal permeability was maintained at 14 and 28 days, but at 120 and 240 days a persistent and significant increase of 98% and 73% respectively above control level was noted.
Conclusions: Radiation induces severe impairment in microvessel function even in the histologically unaffected spinal cord, and alters the secretory phenotype of various cell systems in the central nervous system.