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TGFβ is a key modulator of the Epithelial-Mesenchymal Transition (EMT), a process important in cancer progression and metastasis, which leads to the suppression of epithelial genes and expression of mesenchymal proteins. Ionizing radiation was found to specifically induce expression of the TGF-â1 isoform, which can modulate late post-radiation changes and increase the risk of tumor development and metastasis. Interactions between TGFβ induced EMT and DNA damage responses have not been fully elucidated, particularly at low doses and following different radiation quality exposures. Further characterization of the relationship between radiation quality, EMT and cancer development is warranted. We investigated whether space radiation induced TGFβ dependent EMT, using hTERT immortalized human esophageal epithelial cells (EPC2-hTERT) and non-transformed mink lung epithelial cells (Mv1Lu). We have observed morphologic and molecular alterations in EPC2 and Mv1Lu cells consistent with EMT after pre-treatment with TGFβ1. This effect could be efficiently inhibited in both cell lines by the use of a TGFβRI inhibitor. High-energy silicon or iron nuclei were each able to cause a mild induction of EMT, with the inclusion of TGFβ1 inducing a greatly enhanced EMT phenotype even when cells were irradiated with doses as low as 0.1 Gy. A further enhancement of EMT was achieved at a higher dose of 2 Gy. TGFβRI inhibitor was able to reverse the EMT induced by the combination of TGFβ1 and radiation. These studies indicate that heavy ions, even at a low dose, may trigger the process of TGFβ1-induced EMT, and suggest further studies are needed to determine whether the chronic exposures received in space may potentiate this process in astronauts, leading to an increased risk of cancer.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Radiation Research

Publication Date





51 - 57