Hienz, R. D., Brady, J. V., Gooden, V. L., Vazquez, M. E. and Weed, M. R. Neurobehavioral Effects of Head-only Gamma-Radiation Exposure in Rats. Radiat. Res. 170, 292–298 (2008).

The present report describes initial steps in the development of an animal model for assessing the effects of low levels of radiation encountered in the space environment on human cognitive function by examining the effects of radiation on a range of neurobehavioral functions in rodents that are similar to a number of basic human cognitive functions. The present report presents baseline data on the effects of γ radiation on neurobehavioral functions in rodents (psychomotor speed, discrimination accuracy and inhibitory control) that are similar to those in humans. Two groups of eight Long-Evans rats were trained to perform a reaction-time task that required them to depress a lever for 1–3 s and to release the lever within 1.5 s of a release stimulus (correct trial) to receive a reward. Releasing the lever prior to the release stimulus (error) terminated the trial. One group was exposed to head-only γ radiation (5 Gy at a dose rate of 1 Gy/min), while the second group was sham-irradiated using the same anesthesia protocol. The irradiated group showed significant deficits in both performance accuracy (percentage correct scores) and performance reliability (false alarm scores) from 1 to 4 months after irradiation, indicating clear performance impairments. The increase in false alarm scores is consistent with reduced inhibitory control and a shift toward increased anticipatory responses at the cost of decreased accuracy. The nonirradiated group showed no such changes over the same period.

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