Whole Brain Radiation-Induced Impairments in Learning and Memory Are Time-Sensitive and Reversible by Systemic Hypoxia
Warrington, Junie P.
Lee, Yong Woo
Sonntag, William E.
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Whole brain radiation therapy (WBRT) is commonly used for treatment of primary and metastatic brain tumors; however, cognitive impairment occurs in 40–50% of brain tumor survivors. The etiology of the cognitive impairment following WBRT remains elusive. We recently reported that radiation-induced cerebrovascular rarefaction within hippocampal subregions could be completely reversed by systemic hypoxia. However, the effects of this intervention on learning and memory have not been reported. In this study, we assessed the time-course for WBRT-induced impairments in contextual and spatial learning and the capacity of systemic hypoxia to reverse WBRT-induced deficits in spatial memory. A clinical fractionated series of 4.5Gy WBRT was administered to mice twice weekly for 4 weeks, and after various periods of recovery, behavioral analyses were performed. To study the effects of systemic hypoxia, mice were subjected to 11% (hypoxia) or 21% oxygen (normoxia) for 28 days, initiated 1 month after the completion of WBRT. Our results indicate that WBRT induces a transient deficit in contextual learning, disruption of working memory, and progressive impairment of spatial learning. Additionally, systemic hypoxia completely reversed WBRT-induced impairments in learning and these behavioral effects as well as increased vessel density persisted for at least 2 months following hypoxia treatment. Our results provide critical support for the hypothesis that cerebrovascular rarefaction is a key component of cognitive impairment post-WBRT and indicate that processes of learning and memory, once thought to be permanently impaired after WBRT, can be restored.