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Behav Brain Res. 1998 Mar;91(1-2):99-114.

Late behavioural and neuropathological effects of local brain irradiation in the rat.

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  • 1Department of Psychology, Institute of Psychiatry, London, UK.


The delayed consequences of radiation damage on learning and memory in rats were assessed over a period of 44 weeks, commencing 26 weeks after local irradiation of the brain with single doses of X-rays. Doses were set at levels known to produce vascular changes alone (20 Gy) or vascular changes followed by necrosis (25 Gy). Following T-maze training, 29 weeks after irradiation, irradiated and sham control groups performed equally well on the forced choice alternation task. When tested 35 weeks after irradiation, treated rats achieved a much lower percentage of correct choices than controls in T-maze alternation, with no difference between the two irradiated groups. At 38-40 weeks after irradiation, rats receiving both doses showed marked deficits in water maze place learning compared with age-matched controls; performance was more adversely affected by the higher dose. The extent of impairment was equivalent in the two groups of rats irradiated with 25 Gy, those trained or not previously trained in the T-maze, suggesting that water maze acquisition deficits were not influenced by prior experience in a different spatial task. In contrast to water maze acquisition, rats irradiated with 20 Gy showed no deficits in working memory assessed in the water maze 44 weeks after irradiation, whereas rats receiving 25 Gy showed substantial impairment. Rats receiving 25 Gy irradiation showed marked necrosis of the fimbria and degeneration of the corpus callosum, damage to the callosum occurring in animals examined histologically 46 weeks after irradiation, but in only a third of the animals examined at 41 weeks. However, there was no evidence of white matter necrosis in rats irradiated with 20 Gy, examined 46 weeks after irradiation. These findings demonstrated that local cranial irradiation with single doses of 20 and 25 Gy of X-rays produced delayed impairment of spatial learning and working memory in the rat. The extent of these deficits appears to be task- and dose-related, since rats treated with 25 Gy showed marked impairments in all measures, whereas rats treated with the lower dose showed less impairment in water maze learning and no deficits water maze working memory, despite significant disruption of working memory in the T-maze. The findings further suggest that although high dose irradiation-induced white matter necrosis is associated with substantial impairment, cognitive deficits may also be detected after a lower dose, not associated with the development of necrosis.

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