Radiation induced CNS toxicity--molecular and cellular mechanisms

Br J Cancer. 2001 Nov 2;85(9):1233-9. doi: 10.1054/bjoc.2001.2100.


Radiotherapy of tumours proximal to normal CNS structures is limited by the sensitivity of the normal tissue. Prior to the development of prophylactic strategies or treatment protocols a detailed understanding of the mechanisms of radiation induced CNS toxicity is mandatory. Histological analysis of irradiated CNS specimens defines possible target structures prior to a delineation of cellular and molecular mechanisms. Several lesions can be distinguished: Demyelination, proliferative and degenerative glial reactions, endothelial cell loss and capillary occlusion. All changes are likely to result from complex alterations within several functional CNS compartments. Thus, a single mechanism responsible cannot be separated. At least four factors contribute to the development of CNS toxicity: (1) damage to vessel structures; (2) deletion of oligodendrocyte-2 astrocyte progenitors (O-2A) and mature oligodendrocytes; (3) deletion of neural stem cell populations in the hippocampus, cerebellum and cortex; (4) generalized alterations of cytokine expression. Several underlying cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in radiation induced CNS toxicity have been identified. The article reviews the currently available data on the cellular and molecular basis of radiation induced CNS side effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Central Nervous System / pathology*
  • Cerebellum / cytology
  • Cerebellum / pathology
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Cytokines / biosynthesis
  • Hippocampus / cytology
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Humans
  • Microcirculation / pathology
  • Neoplasms / radiotherapy
  • Oligodendroglia / pathology*
  • Radiation Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects*
  • Stem Cells


  • Cytokines