Possible involvement of hippocampal immediate–early genes in contextual fear memory deficit induced by cranial irradiation

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Cranial irradiation can trigger adverse effects on brain functions, including cognitive ability. However, the cellular and molecular mechanisms underlying radiation-induced cognitive impairments remain still unknown. Immediate–early genes (IEGs) are implicated in neuronal plasticity and the related functions (i.e., memory formation) in the hippocampus. The present study quantitatively assessed changes in the mRNA and protein levels of the learning-induced IEGs, including Arc, c-fos, and zif268, in the mouse hippocampus after cranial irradiation using quantitative real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR) and immunohistochemistry, respectively. Mice (male, 8-week-old C57BL/6) received whole-brain irradiation with 0 or 10 Gy of gamma-ray and, 2 weeks later, contextual fear conditioning (CFC) was used to induce IEGs. In the CFC task, mice evaluated 2 weeks after irradiation exhibited significant memory deficits compared with sham (0 Gy)-irradiated controls. The levels of mRNA encoding IEGs were significantly upregulated in the hippocampus 10 and 30 min after CFC training. The mRNA levels in the irradiated hippocampi were significantly lower than those in the sham-irradiated controls. The IEG protein levels were significantly increased in all hippocampal regions, including the hippocampal dentate gyrus, cornu ammonis (CA)1, and CA3, after CFC training. The CFC-induced upregulation of Arc and c-fos in 10 Gy-irradiated hippocampi was significantly lower than that in sham-irradiated controls, although there were no significant differences in the protein levels of the learning-induced zif268 between sham-irradiated and 10 Gy-irradiated hippocampi. Thus, cranial irradiation with 10 Gy of gamma-ray impairs the induction of hippocampal IEGs (particularly Arc and c-fos) via behavioral contextual fear memory, and this disturbance may be associated with the memory deficits evident in mice after cranial irradiation, possibly through the dysregulation of neuronal plasticity during memory formation.

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