The mouse has been used extensively to model radiation injury to the lung, a major dose-limiting organ for radiotherapy. Substantial differences in the timing and sensitivity of this tissue between mouse strains have been reported, with some strains, including C57BL/6, being designated as “fibrosis-prone”. Pleural effusions have also been reported to be a prominent problem in many mouse strains, but it remains unclear how this affects the lung function and survival of the standard C57BL/6 mouse. The purpose of this investigation was to re-evaluate this strain in comparison with C57L and CBA mice after whole-thorax irradiation at doses ranging from 10 to 15 Gy. Breathing rate measurements, micro-computerized tomography, lung tissue weight, pleural fluid weight and histopathology showed that the most prominent features were an early phase of pneumonitis (C57L and CBA) followed by a late incidence of massive pleural effusions (CBA and C57BL/6). A remarkable difference was seen between the C57 strains: The C57L mice were exquisitely sensitive to early pneumonitis at 3 to 4 months while C57BL/6 mice showed a delayed response, with most mice presenting with large accumulations of pleural fluid at 6 to 9 months. These results therefore caution against the routine use of C57BL/6 mice in radiation lung experiments because pleural effusions are rarely observed in patients as a consequence of radiotherapy. Future experiments designed to investigate genetic determinants of radiation lung damage should focus on the high sensitivity of the C57L strain (in comparison with CBA or C3H mice) and the possibility that they are more susceptible to pulmonary fibrosis as well as pneumonitis.
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