Complex housing partially mitigates low dose radiation-induced changes in brain and behavior in rats

Anna Fiselier, Richelle Mychasiuk, Arif Muhammad, Shakhawat Hossain, Abhijit Ghose, Charles Kirkby, Esmaeel Ghasroddashti, Olga Kovalchuk, Bryan Kolb

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


Purpose: In recent years, much effort has been focused on developing new strategies for the prevention and mitigation of adverse radiation effects on healthy tissues and organs, including the brain. The brain is very sensitive to radiation effects, albeit as it is highly plastic. Hence, deleterious radiation effects may be potentially reversible. Because radiation exposure affects dendritic space, reduces the brain's ability to produce new neurons, and alters behavior, mitigation efforts should focus on restoring these parameters. To that effect, environmental enrichment through complex housing (CH) and exercise may provide a plausible avenue for exploration of protection from brain irradiation. CH is a much broader concept than exercise alone, and constitutes exposure of animals to positive physical and social stimulation that is superior to their routine housing and care conditions. We hypothesized that CHs may lessen harmful neuroanatomical and behavioural effects of low dose radiation exposure. Methods: We analyzed and compared cerebral morphology in animals exposed to low dose head, bystander (liver), and scatter irradiation on rats housed in either the environmental enrichment condos or standard housing. Results: Enriched condo conditions ameliorated radiation-induced neuroanatomical changes. Moreover, irradiated animals that were kept in enriched CH condos displayed fewer radiation-induced behavioural deficits than those housed in standard conditions. Conclusions: Animal model-based environmental enrichment strategies, such as CH, are excellent surrogate models for occupational and exercise therapy in humans, and consequently have significant translational possibility. Our study may thus serve as a roadmap for the development of new, easy, safe and cost-effective methods to prevent and mitigate low-dose radiation effects on the brain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)109-124
Number of pages16
JournalRestorative Neurology and Neuroscience
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • behavior
  • Dendritic morphology
  • radiation-induced brain changes

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