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Open Access Publications from the University of California

New Concerns for Neurocognitive Function during Deep Space Exposures to Chronic, Low Dose-Rate, Neutron Radiation.

  • Author(s): Acharya, Munjal M
  • Baulch, Janet E
  • Klein, Peter M
  • Baddour, Al Anoud D
  • Apodaca, Lauren A
  • Kramár, Eniko A
  • Alikhani, Leila
  • Garcia, Camillo
  • Angulo, Maria C
  • Batra, Raja S
  • Fallgren, Christine M
  • Borak, Thomas B
  • Stark, Craig EL
  • Wood, Marcello A
  • Britten, Richard A
  • Soltesz, Ivan
  • Limoli, Charles L
  • et al.

As NASA prepares for a mission to Mars, concerns regarding the health risks associated with deep space radiation exposure have emerged. Until now, the impacts of such exposures have only been studied in animals after acute exposures, using dose rates ∼1.5×105 higher than those actually encountered in space. Using a new, low dose-rate neutron irradiation facility, we have uncovered that realistic, low dose-rate exposures produce serious neurocognitive complications associated with impaired neurotransmission. Chronic (6 month) low-dose (18 cGy) and dose rate (1 mGy/d) exposures of mice to a mixed field of neutrons and photons result in diminished hippocampal neuronal excitability and disrupted hippocampal and cortical long-term potentiation. Furthermore, mice displayed severe impairments in learning and memory, and the emergence of distress behaviors. Behavioral analyses showed an alarming increase in risk associated with these realistic simulations, revealing for the first time, some unexpected potential problems associated with deep space travel on all levels of neurological function.

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