Planning for long-duration manned lunar and interplanetary missions requires an understanding of radiation-induced cataractogenesis. Previously, it was demonstrated that low-linear energy transfer (LET) irradiation with 10 Gy of 60Co γ rays resulted in an increased incidence of cataracts in male rats compared to female rats. This gender difference was not due to differences in estrogen, since male rats treated with the major secreted estrogen 17-β-estradiol (E2) showed an identical increase compared to untreated males. We now compare the incidence and rate of progression of cataracts induced by high-LET radiation in male and female Sprague-Dawley rats. Rats received a single dose of 1 Gy of 600 MeV 56Fe ions. Lens opacification was measured at 2–4-week intervals with a slit lamp. The incidence and rate of progression of radiation-induced cataracts was significantly increased in the animals in which estrogen was available from endogenous or exogenous sources. Male rats with E2 capsules implanted had significantly higher rates of progression compared to male rats with empty capsules implanted (P = 0.025) but not compared to the intact female rats. These results contrast with data obtained after low-LET irradiation and suggest the possibility that the different types of damage caused by high- and low-LET radiation may be influenced differentially by steroid sex hormones.
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