High-energy charged particles are considered particularly hazardous components of the space radiation environment. Such particles include fully ionized energetic nuclei of helium, silicon, and oxygen, among others. Exposure to charged particles causes reactive oxygen species production, which has been shown to result in neuronal dysfunction and myelin degeneration. Here we demonstrate that mice exposed to high-energy charged particles exhibited alterations in dendritic spine density in the hippocampus, with a significant decrease of thin spines in mice exposed to helium, oxygen, and silicon, compared to sham-irradiated controls. Electron microscopy confirmed these findings and revealed a significant decrease in overall synapse density and in nonperforated synapse density, with helium and silicon exhibiting more detrimental effects than oxygen. Degeneration of myelin was also evident in exposed mice with significant changes in the percentage of myelinated axons and g-ratios. Our data demonstrate that exposure to all types of high-energy charged particles have a detrimental effect, with helium and silicon having more synaptotoxic effects than oxygen. These results have important implications for the integrity of the central nervous system and the cognitive health of astronauts after prolonged periods of space exploration.
- charged particles
- dendritic spines