An unavoidable complication of space travel is exposure to high-charge, high-energy (HZE) particles. In animal studies, exposure of the CNS to HZE-particle radiation leads to neurological alterations similar to those seen in aging or Alzheimer's disease. In this study we examined whether HZE-particle radiation accelerated the age-related neuronal dysfunction that was previously described in transgenic mice overexpressing human amyloid precursor protein (APP). These APP23 transgenic mice exhibit age-related behavioral abnormalities and deficits in synaptic transmission. We exposed 7-week-old APP23 transgenic males to brain-only 56Fe-particle radiation (600 MeV/nucleon; 1, 2, 4 Gy) and recorded synaptic transmission in hippocampal slices at 2, 6, 9, 14 and 18–24 months. We stimulated Schaeffer collaterals and recorded field excitatory postsynaptic potentials (fEPSP) and population spikes (PS) in CA1 neurons. Radiation accelerated the onset of age-related fEPSP decrements recorded at the PS threshold from 14 months of age to 9 months and reduced synaptic efficacy. At 9 months, radiation also reduced PS amplitudes. At 6 months, we observed a temporary deficit in paired-pulse inhibition of the PS at 2 Gy. Radiation did not significantly affect survival of APP23 transgenic mice. We conclude that irradiation of the brain with HZE particles accelerates Alzheimer's disease-related neurological deficits.

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