Although it is documented that concurrent wounding increases mortality from radiation injury, the molecular mechanism of combined injury is unknown. In this study, mice were exposed to γ radiation followed by skin wounding. Wound trauma exacerbated radiation-induced mortality, reducing the LD50/30 from 9.65 Gy to 8.95 Gy. Analyses of histopathology, inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), and serum cytokines were performed on mouse ileum and skin at various times after 9.75 Gy and/or wounding. In the ileum, the villi were significantly shortened 3 days postirradiation but not after wounding; combined injury resulted in decreased villus width and tunica muscularis thickness. The skin of mice subjected to combined injury was less cellular and had a smaller healing bud than the skin of mice subjected to wounding alone. Combined injury significantly delayed wound closure times; it also prolonged the increased levels of iNOS protein in the skin and ileum. iNOS up-regulation was correlated with increases in transcription factors, including NF-κB and NF-IL6. The increase in NF-IL6 may be due to increases in cytokines, including IL-1β, -6, -8, -9, -10 and -13, G-CSF, eotaxin, INF-γ, MCP-1, MIP-1α and MIP-1β. Combined injury resulted in early detection of bacteria in the blood of the heart and liver, whereas radiation alone resulted in later detection of bacteria; only a transient bacteremia occurred after wounding alone. Results suggest that enhancement of iNOS, cytokines and bacterial infection triggered by combined injury may contribute to mortality. Agents that inhibit these responses may prove to be therapeutic for combined injury and may reduce related mortality.
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