Raber, J., Rola, R., LeFevour, A., Morhardt, D., Curley, J., Mizumatsu, S., VandenBerg, S. R. and Fike, J. R. Radiation-Induced Cognitive Impairments are Associated with Changes in Indicators of Hippocampal Neurogenesis. Radiat. Res. 162, 39–47 (2004).
During treatment of brain tumors, some head and neck tumors, and other diseases, like arteriovenous malformations, the normal brain is exposed to ionizing radiation. While high radiation doses can cause severe tissue destruction, lower doses can induce cognitive impairments without signs of overt tissue damage. The underlying pathogenesis of these impairments is not well understood but may involve the neural precursor cells in the dentate gyrus of the hippocampus. To assess the effects of radiation on cognitive function, 2-month-old mice received either sham treatment (controls) or localized X irradiation (10 Gy) to the hippocampus/cortex and were tested behaviorally 3 months later. Compared to controls, X-irradiated mice showed hippocampal-dependent spatial learning and memory impairments in the Barnes maze but not the Morris water maze. No nonspatial learning and memory impairments were detected. The cognitive impairments were associated with reductions in proliferating Ki-67-positive cells and Doublecortin-positive immature neurons in the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the dentate gyrus. This study shows significant cognitive impairments after a modest dose of radiation and demonstrates that the Barnes maze is particularly sensitive for the detection of radiation-induced cognitive deficits in young adult mice. The significant loss of proliferating SGZ cells and their progeny suggests a contributory role of reduced neurogenesis in the pathogenesis of radiation-induced cognitive impairments.