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Some astronauts at risk for cognitive impairment, animal studies suggest
Date:4/23/2014

herapy for brain tumors or identifying which patients may be more at risk from radiation-based medical treatments, the investigators note.

Previous research has tested how well radiation-exposed rats do with basic learning tasks and mazes, but this new Johns Hopkins study focused on tests that closely mimic the self-tests of fitness for duty currently used by astronauts on the International Space Station prior to mission-critical events such as space walks. Similar fitness tests are also used for soldiers, airline pilots and long-haul truckers.

In one such test, an astronaut sees a blank screen on a handheld device and is instructed to tap the screen when an LED counter lights up. The normal reaction time should be less than 300 milliseconds. The rats in the experiment are similarly taught to touch a light-up key with their noses and are then tested to see how quickly they react.

To conduct the new study, rats were first trained for the tests and then taken to Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island in Upton, N.Y., where a collider produces the high-energy proton and heavy ion radiation particles that normally occur in space. The rats' heads were exposed to varying levels of radiation that astronauts would normally receive during long-duration missions, while other rats were given sham exposures.

Once the rats returned to Johns Hopkins, they were tested every day for 250 days. The radiation-sensitive animals (19 of 46) all showed evidence of impairment that began at 50 to 60 days postexposure and remained through the end of the study.

Lapses in attention occurred in 64 percent of the sensitive animals, elevations in impulsive responding occurred in 45 percent and slower reaction times occurred in 27 percent. The impairments were not dependent on radiation dose. Additionally, some of the rats didn't recover at all from their deficits over time, while others showed some recovery over time.

The radiation-sensi
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Contact: Stephanie Desmon
sdesmon1@jhmi.edu
410-955-8665
Johns Hopkins Medicine
Source:Eurekalert

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