The unintended side effects of cancer treatment are increasing recognized. Among these is a syndrome of long-term neurocognitive dysfunction called cancer/chemotherapy related cognitive impairment. To date, all studies examining the cognitive impact of cancer treatment have emphasized chemotherapy. Radiation-induced bystander effects have been described in cell culture and, to a limited extent, in rodent model systems. The purpose of this study was to examine, for the first time, the impact of non-brain directed radiation therapy on the brain in order to elucidate its potential relationship with cancer/chemotherapy related cognitive impairment. To address this objective, female BALB/c mice received either a single 16 gray fraction of ionizing radiation to the right hind limb or three doses of methotrexate, once per week for three consecutive weeks. Mice were sacrificed either 3 or 30 days post-treatment and brain injury was determined via quantification of activated astrocytes and microglia. To characterize the effects of non-brain directed radiation on brain glucose metabolism, mice were evaluated by fluorodeoxygluocose positron emission tomography. A single fraction of 16 gray radiation resulted in global decreases in brain glucose metabolism, a significant increase in the number of activated astrocytes and microglia, and increased TNF-α expression, all of which lasted up to 30 days post-treatment. This inflammatory response following radiation therapy was statistically indistinguishable from the neuroinflammation observed following methotrexate administration. In conclusion, non-brain directed radiation was sufficient to cause significant brain bystander injury as reflected by multifocal hypometabolism and persistent neuroinflammation. These findings suggest that radiation induces significant brain bystander effects distant from the irradiated cells and tissues. These effects may contribute to the development of cognitive dysfunction in treated human cancer patients and warrant further study.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
This work was supported by the National Institutes of Health (https://www.nichd.nih.gov/ Pages/index.aspx) 1K12-HD055887-01 to SH and the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science Core to Core Program (https://www.jsps.go.jp/ english/) 23003 to SH. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.