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Review
, 59 (4), 222-6

Cognitive Function and Prenatal Exposure to Ionizing Radiation

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Review

Cognitive Function and Prenatal Exposure to Ionizing Radiation

W J Schull et al. Teratology.

Abstract

It is clear from the many studies of the prenatally exposed survivors of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that exposure to ionizing radiation during gestation has harmful effects on the developing human brain, particularly if that exposure occurs at critical stages in the development of the neocortex. Data on a variety of measures of cognitive function, including the occurrence of severe mental retardation as well as variation in the intelligence quotient (IQ) and school performance, show significant effects on those survivors exposed 8-15 weeks and 16-25 weeks after ovulation. Studies of seizures, primarily those without known precipitating cause, also exhibit a radiation effect on those individuals exposed in the first 16 weeks after ovulation. The cellular and molecular events that subtend these abnormalities are still largely unknown although some progress toward an understanding has occurred. For example, magnetic resonance imaging of the brain of some of the mentally retarded survivors has revealed a large region of abnormally situated gray matter, suggesting an abnormality in neuronal migration, but cell killing could also contribute importantly to the effects on cognitive function that have been seen. The retardation of growth in stature observed in individuals exposed in the first and second trimesters of pregnancy suggests that the development of an atypically small head size, without conspicuously impaired cognitive function, may reflect a generalized retardation of growth.

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