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Sex-Specific Effects of a Wartime-Like Radiation Exposure on Cognitive Function

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Evaluating the risk for central nervous system (CNS) effects after whole-body or partial-body irradiation presents challenges due in part to the varied exposure scenarios in the context of occupational, accidental or wartime releases. Risk estimations are further complicated by the fact that robust changes in brain function are unlikely to manifest until significantly late post exposure times. Collectively, the current data regarding CNS radiation risk are conflicting in humans and a survey of the animal model data shows that it is similarly inconsistent. Due to the sparseness of such data, the current study was conducted using male and female mice to evaluate the brain for the delayed effects of a 2 Gy whole-body exposure to c rays starting six months postirradiation. Behavioral testing indicated sex-specific differences in the induction of anxiety-like behaviors and in the ability to abolish fear memories. Molecular analyses showed alterations in post-synaptic protein levels that might affect synaptic plasticity and increased levels of global DNA methylation, suggesting a potential epigenetic mechanism that might contribute to radiation-induced cognitive dysfunction. These data add to the understanding of the CNS response to whole-body irradiation and may lead to improved risk assessment and provide guidance in the development of effective radiation countermeasures to protect military personnel and civilians alike.

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