The radiation environment in space remains a major concern for manned space exploration, as there is currently no shielding material capable of fully protecting flight crews. Additionally, there is growing concern for the social and cognitive welfare of astronauts, due to prolonged radiation exposure and confinement they will experience on a mission to Mars. In this artice, we report on the late effects of 16O-particle radiation on social and cognitive behavior and neuronal morphology in the hippocampus of adult female mice. Six-month-old mice received 16O-particle whole-body irradiation at doses of either 0.25 or 0.1 Gy (600 MeV/n; 18–33 cGy/min) at the NASA's Space Radiation Laboratory in Upton, NY. At nine months postirradiation, the animals underwent behavioral testing in the three-chamber sociability, novel object recognition and Y-maze paradigms. Exposure to 0.1 or 0.25 Gy 16O significantly impaired object memory, a 0.25 Gy dose impaired social novelty learning, but neither dosage impaired short-term spatial memory. We observed significant decreases in mushroom spine density and dendrite morphology in the dentate gyrus, cornu ammonis 3, 2 and 1 of the hippocampus, which are critical areas for object novelty and sociability processing. Our data suggest exposure to 16O modulates hippocampal pyramidal and granular neurons and induces behavioral deficits at a time point of nine months after exposure in females.

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