Astronauts traveling outside Earth's magnetosphere risk exposure to charged particle radiation that may cause neurophysiological changes and behavioral deficits. Although proton particles comprise a large portion of the space radiation environment, little has been published on the effects of low-dose proton radiation on central nervous system function. In the current study, we irradiated young male mice with 0.5 Gy 150 MeV protons and assessed the effects on behavior and hippocampal neurophysiology. Spatial learning ability, a sensitive behavioral marker of hippocampal damage, was assessed using the water maze and Barnes maze before irradiation and repeatedly 3 and 6 months after irradiation. Evoked field excitatory postsynaptic potentials (fEPSPs) and population spikes, long-term potentiation (LTP) and spontaneous oscillations (SOs) triggered by incubation with Mg2 -free media (reflecting interictal epileptiform activity) were assessed 9 months after irradiation in vitro in hippocampal slice preparations. Irradiated mice exhibited impaired reversal learning in the water maze compared to control mice 6 months after irradiation. Proton radiation did not affect LTP, but significantly increased fEPSP slopes and reduced the incidence of SOs 9 months after irradiation. These findings suggest that a single exposure to low-dose proton radiation can increase synaptic excitability and suppress the propensity for epileptiform activity. Such findings of functional alterations in the irradiated mouse hippocampus have implications for extended manned space missions planned in the near future.
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Vol. 184 • No. 2