Background Radiotherapy has an important role in the treatment of brain metastases but carries risk of short and/or long-term toxicity, termed radiation-induced brain injury (RBI). As the diagnosis of RBI is crucial for correct patient management, there is an unmet need for reliable biomarkers for RBI. The aim of this proof-of concept study is to determine the utility of brain-derived circulating free DNA (BncfDNA), identified by specific methylation patterns for neurons, astrocytes, and oligodendrocytes, as biomarkers brain injury induced by radiotherapy. Methods Twenty-four patients with brain metastases were monitored clinically and radiologically before, during and after brain radiotherapy, and blood for BncfDNA analysis (98 samples) was concurrently collected. Sixteen patients were treated with whole brain radiotherapy and eight patients with stereotactic radiosurgery. Results During follow-up nine RBI events were detected, and all correlated with significant increase in BncfDNA levels compared to baseline. Additionally, resolution of RBI correlated with a decrease in BncfDNA. Changes in BncfDNA were independent of tumor response. Conclusions Elevated BncfDNA levels reflects brain cell injury incurred by radiotherapy. further research is needed to establish BncfDNA as a novel plasma-based biomarker for brain injury induced by radiotherapy.
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