Persistent Impact of In utero Irradiation on Mouse Brain Structure and Function Characterized by MR Imaging and Behavioral Analysis

Tine Verreet, Janaki Raman Rangarajan, Roel Quintens, Mieke Verslegers, Adrian C. Lo, Kristof Govaerts, Mieke Neefs, Liselotte Leysen, Sarah Baatout, Frederik Maes, Uwe Himmelreich, Rudi D'Hooge, Lieve Moons, Rafi Benotmane

    Research outputpeer-review


    Prenatal irradiation is known to perturb brain development. Epidemiological studies revealed that radiation exposure during weeks 8-15 of pregnancy was associated with an increased occurrence of mental disability and microcephaly. Such neurological deficits were reproduced in animal models, in which rodent behavioral testing is an often used tool to evaluate radiation-induced defective brain functionality. However, up to now, animal studies suggested a threshold dose of around 0.30 Gray (Gy) below which no behavioral alterations can be observed, while human studies hinted at late defects after exposure to doses as low as 0.10 Gy. Here, we acutely irradiated pregnant mice at embryonic day 11 with doses ranging from 0.10 to 1.00 Gy. A thorough investigation of the dose-response relationship of altered brain function and architecture following in utero irradiation was achieved using a behavioral test battery and volumetric 3D T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). We found dose-dependent changes in cage activity, social behavior, anxiety-related exploration, and spatio-cognitive performance. Although behavioral alterations in low-dose exposed animals were mild, we did unveil that both emotionality and higher cognitive abilities were affected in mice exposed to ≥0.10 Gy. Microcephaly was apparent from 0.33 Gy onwards and accompanied by deviations in regional brain volumes as compared to controls. Of note, total brain volume and the relative volume of the ventricles, frontal and posterior cerebral cortex, cerebellum, and striatum were most strongly correlated to altered behavioral parameters. Taken together, we present conclusive evidence for persistent low-dose effects after prenatal irradiation in mice and provide a better understanding of the correlation between their brain size and performance in behavioral tests.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number83
    Pages (from-to)1-18
    Number of pages18
    JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
    Issue number83
    StatePublished - 4 May 2016

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