Effect of therapeutic ionizing radiation on the human brain

Ann Neurol. 2001 Dec;50(6):787-95. doi: 10.1002/ana.10029.


We test a hypothesis that fractionated radiation therapy within a therapeutic dose range is associated with a dose-related change in normal brain, detectable by quantitative magnetic resonance imaging. A total of 33 patients were examined by quantitative magnetic resonance imaging to measure brain tissue spin-lattice relaxation time (T1) before treatment, and at various times during and after radiation therapy. A T1 map was generated at each time point, and radiation therapy isodose contours were superimposed on the corresponding segmented T1 map. Changes in white matter and gray matter T1 were analyzed as a function of radiation therapy dose and time since treatment, controlling for patient age and tumor site. In white matter, a dose level of more than 20 Gy was associated with a dose-dependent decrease in T1 over time, which became significant 6 months after treatment. There was no significant change in T1 of gray matter over time, at radiation therapy doses of less than 60 Gy. However, GM in close proximity to the tumor had a lower T1 before therapy. Our results represent the first radiation dose-response data derived from pediatric brain in vivo. These findings confirm that white matter is more vulnerable to radiation-induced change than is gray matter, and suggest that T1 mapping is sensitive to radiation-related changes over a broad dose range (20 to 60 Gy). Human white matter T1 is not sensitive to radiation therapy of less than 20 Gy, and gray matter T1 is unchanged over the dose range used to treat human brain tumor. The reduction of gray matter T1 near the tumor could result from compression of cortical parenchyma near the growing tumor mass, or from tumor cell invasion directly into the parenchyma. If brain T1 is a surrogate for radiation effect, reducing the volume of normal white matter receiving more than 20 Gy could be an important treatment planning goal.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Clinical Trial, Phase II
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / radiation effects*
  • Brain Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Radiation
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Prospective Studies
  • Radiation, Ionizing*
  • Radiotherapy Dosage
  • Radiotherapy, Conformal / adverse effects*