Background: Radiation-induced lung fibrosis (RILF) is a common complication of thoracic radiotherapy. Alveolar epithelial cells play a crucial role in lung fibrosis via epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Exosomes derived from mesenchymal stem cells own the beneficial properties to repair and regeneration of damaged tissues, however the underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood.

Methods: Mouse mesenchymal stem cells-derived exosomes (mMSCs-Exo) were isolated by differential centrifugation, and their protective effects were assessed in vivo and in vitro , respectively. EMT-associated proteins were measured via western blot assay and/or immunofluorescence staining. The miRNA expression was measured by microarray assay and qPCR. Furthermore, bioinformatics prediction with KEGG analysis, luciferase assay, and rescue experiments were performed to explore the molecular mechanism underlying miR-466f-3p.

Results: mMSCs-Exos were efficiently isolated ranging from 90-150 nm with high expression of exosomal markers (CD63, TSG101, and CD9). mMSCs-Exos administration efficiently relieved radiation-induced lung injury with less collagen deposition and lower levels of IL-1β and IL-6. Meanwhile, in vitro results showed mMSCs-Exos treatment obviously reversed EMT process induced by radiation. Among enriched miRNA cargo in exosomes, miR-466f-3p was primarily responsible for the protective effects via inhibition of AKT/GSK3β pathway. Our mechanistic study further demonstrated that c-MET was the direct target of miR-466f-3p, whose restoration partially abrogated mMSCs-Exo-mediated inhibition in both EMT process and AKT/GSK3β signaling activity induced by radiation.

Conclusions: Our findings indicated that exosomal miR-466f-3p derived from mMSCs may possess anti-fibrotic properties and prevent radiation-induced EMT through inhibition of AKT/GSK3β via c-MET, providing a promising therapeutic modality for radiation-induced lung fibrosis.