Purpose and objectivesNeurologic deficits after brain radiation therapy (RT) typically involve decline in higher-order cognitive functions such as attention and memory rather than sensory defects or paralysis. We sought to determine whether areas of the cortex critical to cognition are selectively vulnerable to radiation dose-dependent atrophy.
Methods and materialsWe measured change in cortical thickness in 54 primary brain tumor patients who underwent fractionated, partial brain RT. The study patients underwent high-resolution, volumetric magnetic resonance imaging (T1-weighted; T2 fluid-attenuated inversion recovery, FLAIR) before RT and 1 year afterward. Semiautomated software was used to segment anatomic regions of the cerebral cortex for each patient. Cortical thickness was measured for each region before RT and 1 year afterward. Two higher-order cortical regions of interest (ROIs) were tested for association between radiation dose and cortical thinning: entorhinal (memory) and inferior parietal (attention/memory). For comparison, 2 primary cortex ROIs were also tested: pericalcarine (vision) and paracentral lobule (somatosensory/motor). Linear mixed-effects analyses were used to test all other cortical regions for significant radiation dose-dependent thickness change. Statistical significance was set at α = 0.05 using 2-tailed tests.
ResultsCortical atrophy was significantly associated with radiation dose in the entorhinal (P=.01) and inferior parietal ROIs (P=.02). By contrast, no significant radiation dose-dependent effect was found in the primary cortex ROIs (pericalcarine and paracentral lobule). In the whole-cortex analysis, 9 regions showed significant radiation dose-dependent atrophy, including areas responsible for memory, attention, and executive function (P≤.002).
ConclusionsAreas of cerebral cortex important for higher-order cognition may be most vulnerable to radiation-related atrophy. This is consistent with clinical observations that brain radiation patients experience deficits in domains of memory, executive function, and attention. Correlations of regional cortical atrophy with domain-specific cognitive functioning in prospective trials are warranted.