, Volume 52, Issue 1, pp 5-16
Date: 26 Oct 2012

Long-term effects of ionising radiation on the brain: cause for concern?

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Abstract

There is no clear evidence proving or disproving that ionising radiation is causally linked with neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. However, it is known that high doses of ionising radiation to the head (20–50 Gy) lead to severe learning and memory impairment which is characteristical for Alzheimer’s. The cumulative doses of ionising radiation to the Western population are accruing, mostly due to the explosive growth of medical imaging procedures. Children are in particular prone to ionising radiation as the molecular processes within the brain are not completely finished. Furthermore, they have a long lifespan under risk. We wish to open a debate if such low doses of radiation exposure may lead to delayed long-term cognitive and other defects, albeit at a lower frequency than those observed during application of high doses. Further, we want to sensitise the society towards the risks of ionising radiation. To achieve these aims, we will recapitulate the known symptoms of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s on the molecular level and incorporate data of mainly low- and moderate-ionising radiation (<5 Gy). Thus, we want to highlight in general the potential similarities of both the neurodegenerative and radiation-induced pathways. We will propose a mechanistic model for radiation-induced neurodegeneration pointing out mitochondria as a key element. This includes effects of oxidative stress and neuroinflammation—all fundamental players of neurodegenerative diseases.