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

tive rats that received higher doses of radiation had a higher concentration of transporters for the neurotransmitter dopamine, which plays a role in vigilance and attention, says Catherine M. Davis, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and the study's first author.

The dopamine transport system appears impaired in radiation-sensitive rats because the neurotransmitter is most likely not removed in the manner it should be for the brain to function properly, she says. Humans with genetic differences related to dopamine transport, she adds, have been shown to do worse on the type of mental fitness tests given to the astronauts and rats alike.

Davis says she wouldn't want to see radiation-sensitive astronauts kept from future missions to the moon or Mars, but she would want those astronauts to be prepared to take special precautions to protect their brains, such as wearing extra shielding or not performing space walks.

"As with other areas of personalized medicine, we would seek to create individual treatment and prevention plans for astronauts we believe would be more susceptible to cognitive deficits from radiation exposure," she says.

Current astronauts are not as exposed to the damaging effects of radiation, Davis says, because the International Space Station flies in an orbit low enough that the Earth's magnetic field continues to provide protection.

While the Johns Hopkins team studies the likely effects of radiation on the brain during a deep space mission, other NASA-funded research groups are looking at the potential effects of radiation on other parts of the body and on whether it increases cancer risks.


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

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