Non-Human Primates Receiving High-Dose Total-Body Irradiation are at Risk of Developing Cerebrovascular Injury Years Postirradiation

Rachel N Andrews, Ethan G Bloomer, John D Olson, David B Hanbury, Gregory O Dugan, Christopher T Whitlow, J Mark Cline
Radiation Research 2020 September 16, 194 (3): 277-287
Nuclear accidents and acts of terrorism have the potential to expose thousands of people to high-dose total-body iradiation (TBI). Those who survive the acute radiation syndrome are at risk of developing chronic, degenerative radiation-induced injuries [delayed effects of acute radiation (DEARE)] that may negatively affect quality of life. A growing body of literature suggests that the brain may be vulnerable to radiation injury at survivable doses, yet the long-term consequences of high-dose TBI on the adult brain are unclear. Herein we report the occurrence of lesions consistent with cerebrovascular injury, detected by susceptibility-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), in a cohort of non-human primate [(NHP); rhesus macaque, Macaca mulatta] long-term survivors of high-dose TBI (1.1-8.5 Gy). Animals were monitored longitudinally with brain MRI (approximately once every three years). Susceptibility-weighted images (SWI) were reviewed for hypointensities (cerebral microbleeds and/or focal necrosis). SWI hypointensities were noted in 13% of irradiated NHP; lesions were not observed in control animals. A prior history of exposure was correlated with an increased risk of developing a lesion detectable by MRI (P = 0.003). Twelve of 16 animals had at least one brain lesion present at the time of the first MRI evaluation; a subset of animals (n = 7) developed new lesions during the surveillance period (3.7-11.3 years postirradiation). Lesions occurred with a predilection for white matter and the gray-white matter junction. The majority of animals with lesions had one to three SWI hypointensities, but some animals had multifocal disease (n = 2). Histopathologic evaluation of deceased animals within the cohort (n = 3) revealed malformation of the cerebral vasculature and remodeling of the blood vessel walls. There was no association between comorbid diabetes mellitus or hypertension with SWI lesion status. These data suggest that long-term TBI survivors may be at risk of developing cerebrovascular injury years after irradiation.

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