Cranial radiotherapy during the treatment of pediatric malignancies may cause adverse late effects. It is important to find methods to assess the functional effects of ionizing radiation in animal models and to evaluate the possible ameliorating effects of preventive or reparative treatment strategies. We investigated the long-term effects of a single 8-Gy radiation dose to the brains of 14-day-old mice. Activity and learning were evaluated in adulthood using open field and trace fear conditioning (TFC). These established methods were compared with the novel IntelliCage platform, which enables unbiased analysis of both activity and learning over time in a home cage environment. Neither activity nor learning was changed after irradiation, as judged by the open field and TFC analyses. The IntelliCage, however, revealed both altered activity and learning impairment after irradiation. Place learning and reversal learning were both impaired in the IntelliCage 3 months after irradiation. These results indicate that activity and learning should be assessed using multiple methods and that unbiased analysis over time in a home cage environment may offer advantages in the detection of subtle radiation-induced effects on the young brain.

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