In utero exposure to ionizing radiation can lead to cerebral alterations during adulthood. Using anatomical magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), it is possible to assess radiation-induced structural brain damage noninvasively. However, little is currently known about microstructure alterations in brain tissue. Therefore, the goal of this study was to establish, based on an original and robust pipeline of MRI image analysis, whether the long-term effects of in utero radiation exposure on brain tissue microstructure could be detected noninvasively. Pregnant C57BL/6N mice received a single dose of 1 Gy on gestation day 14.5, which led to behavioral impairments in adults. At 3 months old, in vivo MRI data were acquired from in utero irradiated and nonirradiated male mice. An MRI protocol was designed to assess the effects of radiation on the parameters of brain volume, non-Gaussian diffusion (ADC0, kurtosis and signature index) and anisotropic diffusion (fractional anisotropy and mean, axial, radial diffusivities and anisotropic signature index) in 10 key cerebral structures defined using an in-house atlas of the mouse brain. Based on the relative amplitude of these anatomical and microstructural changes, maps of the radiosensitivity of the brain to in utero irradiation were created. We observed microcephaly in irradiated mice with noticeably larger volume changes in the cortex and the corpus callosum. We also observed significantly lower ADC0, anisotropy fraction (sFA), radial diffusivity (sRD), as well as signature index (S-index and SI3) values, which are original markers sensitive to tissue microstructure alterations. All these changes together are in favor of a decreased cellular “imprint” and in some regions a reduced density in myelinated axons. A reduction in the number and complexity of myelinated axons was further revealed by myelin basic protein immunostaining. Combining anatomical and diffusion MRI is a promising approach to noninvasively investigate the radiosensitivity of local brain areas in adult mice after in utero irradiation in terms of microstructure.
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Vol. 195 • No. 6