Follistatin is induced by ionizing radiation and potentially predictive of radiosensitivity in radiation-induced fibrosis patient derived fibroblasts

Helen Barbara Forrester, Alesia Ivashkevich, Michael J McKay, Trevor Leong, David Morritz de Kretser, Carl Norman Sprung

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Follistatin is a potent regulator of the inflammatory response and binds to and inhibits activin A action. Activin A is a member of the TGFbeta protein superfamily which has regulatory roles in the inflammatory response and in the fibrotic process. Fibrosis can occur following cell injury and cell death induced by agents such as ionizing radiation (IR). IR is used to treat cancer and marked fibrotic response is a normal tissue (non-tumour) consequence in a fraction of patients under the current dose regimes. The discovery and development of a therapeutic to abate fibrosis in these radiosensitive patients would be a major advance for cancer radiotherapy. Likewise, prediction of which patients are susceptible to fibrosis would enable individualization of treatment and provide an opportunity for pre-emptive fibrosis control and better tumour treatment outcomes. The levels of activin A and follistatin were measured in fibroblasts derived from patients who developed severe radiation-induced fibrosis following radiotherapy and compared to fibroblasts from patients who did not. Both follistatin and activin A gene expression levels were increased following IR and the follistatin gene expression level was lower in the fibroblasts from fibrosis patients compared to controls at both basal levels and after IR. The major follistatin transcript variants were found to have a similar response to IR and both were reduced in fibrosis patients. Levels of follistatin and activin A secreted in the fibroblast culture medium also increased in response to IR and the relative follistatin protein levels were significantly lower in the samples derived from fibrosis patients. The decrease in the follistatin levels can lead to an increased bioactivity of activin A and hence may provide a useful measurement to identify patients at risk of a severe fibrotic response to IR. Additionally, follistatin, by its ability to neutralise the actions of activin A may be of value as an anti-fibrotic for radiation induced fibrosis.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere77119
Number of pages9
JournalPLoS ONE
Issue number10
Publication statusPublished - 2013

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