Fractionated radiation therapy is believed to reoxygenate and subsequently radiosensitize surviving hypoxic cancer cells. Measuring tumor reoxygenation between radiation fractions could conceivably provide an early biomarker of treatment response. However, the relationship between tumor reoxygenation and local control is not well understood. We used noninvasive optical fiber-based diffuse reflectance spectroscopy to monitor radiation-induced changes in hemoglobin oxygen saturation (sO) in tumor xenografts grown from two head and neck squamous cell carcinoma cell lines – UM-SCC-22B and UM-SCC-47. Tumors were treated with 4 doses of 2 Gy over 2 consecutive weeks and diffuse reflectance spectra were acquired every day during the 2-week period. There was a statistically significant increase in sO in the treatment-responsive UM-SCC-22B tumors immediately following radiation. This reoxygenation trend was due to an increase in oxygenated hemoglobin (HbO) and disappeared over the next 48 h as sO returned to preradiation baseline values. Conversely, sO in the relatively radiation-resistant UM-SCC-47 tumors increased after every dose of radiation and was driven by a significant decrease in deoxygenated hemoglobin (dHb). Immunohistochemical analysis revealed significantly elevated expression of hypoxia-inducible factor (HIF-1) in the UM-SCC-47 tumors prior to radiation and up to 48 h postradiation compared with the UM-SCC-22B tumors. Our observation of a decrease in dHb, a corresponding increase in sO, as well as greater HIF-1α expression only in UM-SCC-47 tumors strongly suggests that the reoxygenation within these tumors is due to a decrease in oxygen consumption in the cancer cells, which could potentially play a role in promoting radiation resistance.
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