Exosomes are involved in total body irradiation-induced intestinal injury in mice

Hang Li1, Mian Jiang1, Shu-ya Zhao1, Shu-qin Zhang1, Lu Lu1, Xin He1, Guo-xing Feng1, Xin Wu1, Sai-jun Fan1
1 Tianjin Key Laboratory of Radiation Medicine and Molecular Nuclear Medicine, Institute of Radiation Medicine, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences and Peking Union Medical College, Tianjin 300192, China
Correspondence to: Hang Li:, Sai-jun Fan:,
DOI: 10.1038/s41401-021-00615-6
Received: 3 November 2020
Accepted: 15 January 2021
Advance online: 26 February 2021


Ionizing radiation-induced intestinal injury is a catastrophic complication in patients receiving radiotherapy. Circulating exosomes from patients undergoing radiotherapy can mediate communication between cells and facilitate a variety of pathological processes in vivo, but its effects on ionizing radiation-induced intestinal damage are undetermined. In this study we investigated the roles of exosomes during total body irradiation (TBI)-induced intestinal injury in vivo and in vitro. We isolated exosomes from serum of donor mice 24 h after lethal dose (9 Gy) TBI (Exo-IR-24h), then intravenously injected the exosomes into receipt mice, and found that Exo-IR-24h injection not only exacerbated 9 Gy TBI-induced lethality and weight loss, but also promoted crypt-villus structural and functional injury of the small intestine in receipt mice. Moreover, Exo-IR-24h injection significantly enhanced the apoptosis and DNA damage of small intestine in receipt mice following TBI exposure. In murine intestinal epithelial MODE-K cells, treatment with Exo-IR-24h significantly promoted 4 Gy ionizing radiation-induced apoptosis, resulting in decreased cell vitality. We further demonstrated that Exo-IR-24h promoted the IR-induced injury in receipt mice partially through its DNA damage-promoting effects and attenuating Nrf2 antioxidant response in irradiated MODE-K cells. In addition, TBI-related miRNAs and their targets in the exosomes of mice were enriched functionally using Gene Ontology (GO) and Kyoto Encyclopedia of Genes and Genomes (KEGG) pathway analyses. Finally, injection of GW4869 (an inhibitor of exosome biogenesis and release, 1.25 mg·kg−1·d−1, ip, for 5 consecutive days starting 3 days before radiation exposure) was able to rescue mice against 9 Gy TBI-induced lethality and intestinal damage. Collectively, this study reveals that exosomes are involved in TBI-induced intestinal injury in mice and provides a new target to protect patients against irradiation-induced intestinal injury during radiotherapy.
Keywords: total body irradiation; radiation-induced intestinal injury; DNA damage; apoptosis; exosome; MicroRNA; GW4869

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