High-energy protons constitute at least 85% of the fluence of energetic ions in interplanetary space. Although protons are only sparsely ionizing compared to higher atomic mass ions, they nevertheless significantly contribute to the delivered dose received by astronauts that can potentially affect central nervous system function at high fluence, especially during prolonged deep space missions such as to Mars. Here we report on the long-term effects of 1 Gy proton irradiation on electrophysiological properties of CA1 pyramidal neurons in the mouse hippocampus. The hippocampus is a key structure for the formation of long-term episodic memory, for spatial orientation and for information processing in a number of other cognitive tasks. CA1 pyramidal neurons form the last and critical relay point in the trisynaptic circuit of the hippocampal principal neurons through which information is processed before being transferred to other brain areas. Proper functioning of CA1 pyramidal neurons is crucial for hippocampus-dependent tasks. Using the patch-clamp technique to evaluate chronic effects of 1 Gy proton irradiation on CA1 pyramidal neurons, we found that the intrinsic membrane properties of CA1 pyramidal neurons were chronically altered at 3 months postirradiation, resulting in a hyperpolarization of the resting membrane potential (VRMP) and a decrease in input resistance (Rin). These small but significant alterations in intrinsic properties decreased the excitability of CA1 pyramidal neurons, and had a dramatic impact on network function in a computational model of the CA1 microcircuit. We also found that proton-radiation exposure upregulated the persistent Na current (INaP) and increased the rate of miniature excitatory postsynaptic currents (mEPSCs). Both the INaP and the heightened rate of mEPSCs contribute to neuronal depolarization and excitation, and at least in part, could compensate for the reduced excitability resulting from the radiation effects on the VRMP and the Rin. These results show long-term alterations in the intrinsic properties of CA1 pyramidal cells after realistic, low-dose proton irradiation.
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Vol. 183 • No. 2