Prolonged deep space missions to planets and asteroids will expose astronauts to galactic cosmic radiation (GCR), a mixture of low-LET ionizing radiations, high-energy protons and high-Z and energy (HZE) particles. Ground-based experiments are used to determine whether this radiation environment will have an effect on the long-term health of astronauts and their ability to complete various tasks during their mission. Emerging data suggest that mission-relevant HZE doses impair several hippocampus-dependent neurocognitive processes in rodents, but that there is substantial interindividual variation in the severity of neurocognitive impairment, ranging from no observable effects to severe impairment. While the majority of studies have established the effect that the most abundant HZE species (56Fe) has on neurocognition, some studies suggest that the lighter 48Ti HZE particles may be equally, if not more, potent at impairing neurocognition. In this study, we assessed the effect that exposure to 5–20 cGy 1 GeV/n 48Ti had on the spatial memory performance of socially mature male Wistar rats. Acute exposures to mission-relevant doses (≤5 cGy) of 1 GeV/n 48Ti significantly (P < 0.05) reduced the mean spatial memory performance of the rats at three months after exposure, and significantly (P < 0.015) increased the percentage of rats that have severe (Z score ≥ 2) impairment, i.e., poor performers. Collectively, these data further support the notion that the LET dependency of neurocognitive impairment may differ from that of cell killing.
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Vol. 187 • No. 1