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Cancer Res. 2008 Dec 1;68(23):9763-70. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-08-1861.

Cranial irradiation alters the behaviorally induced immediate-early gene arc (activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein).

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  • 1Brain and Spinal Injury Center, Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94110, USA.


Therapeutic irradiation of the brain is commonly used to treat brain tumors but can induce cognitive impairments that can severely affect quality of life. The underlying mechanisms responsible for radiation-induced cognitive deficits are unknown but likely involve alterations in neuronal activity. To gain some mechanistic insight into how irradiation may affect hippocampal neurons known to be associated with cognitive function, we quantitatively assessed the molecular distribution of the behaviorally induced immediate-early gene Arc (activity-regulated cytoskeleton-associated protein) at the level of mRNA and the protein. Young adult C57BL/6J mice received whole-brain irradiation with 0 or 10 Gy, and 1 week or 2 months later, exploration of a novel environment was used to induce Arc expression. The fractions of neurons expressing Arc mRNA and Arc protein were detected using fluorescence in situ hybridization and immunocytochemistry, respectively. Our results showed that there was a significant reduction in the percentage of neurons expressing Arc protein 1 week after irradiation, whereas 2 months after irradiation, there was a reduction in the percentage of neurons expressing both Arc mRNA and Arc protein. Importantly, radiation-induced changes in Arc expression were not a result of neuronal cell loss. The changes observed at 2 months were associated with a significant increase in the number of activated microglia, supporting the idea that inflammation may contribute to neuronal dysfunction. These findings are the first to show that local brain irradiation initiates changes in hippocampal neurons that disrupt the activity patterns (Arc expression) associated with neuroplasticity and memory.

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