The space radiation environment consists of multiple species of high-energy charge particles (HZE), including 56Fe and 28Si nuclei, that may impact neuronal cells, but their damaging effects on the central nervous system (CNS) have been poorly defined. Hippocampus-dependent memory functions have been shown to be highly sensitive to 56Fe HZE particles, which poses a significant risk to the cognitive performance of astronauts during space missions. While low doses of 56Fe radiation do not induce cell death of mature neurons, they affect synaptic plasticity in the CA1 region, the principal neuronal output of the hippocampal formation involved in memory formation. The effects of 28Si on the CNS have not been defined. Compared to behaviorally naïve mice, cognitive testing might affect synaptic plasticity and the effects of 28Si radiation on synaptic plasticity might be modulated by prior cognitive testing. Therefore, in the current study, we quantified the effects of whole-body 28Si radiation (600 MeV/n, 0.25 and 1 Gy) on hippocampus-dependent contextual freezing and synaptic plasticity in the CA1 region of animals not exposed (behaviorally naïve mice) and animals exposed to the contextual freezing test (cognitively tested mice). In behaviorally naïve mice exposed to 0.25 and 1 Gy of 28Si radiation, the magnitude of long-term potentiation (LTP) was enhanced. However, in mice irradiated with 0.25 Gy contextual fear conditioning was enhanced and was associated with a further enhancement of the LTP magnitude. Such increase in synaptic plasticity was not seen in cognitively tested mice irradiated with 1 Gy. Thus, low dose 28Si radiation has effects on synaptic plasticity in the CA1 region of the hippocampus and these effects are modulated by cognitive testing in a contextual fear-conditioning test.
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Vol. 181 • No. 4