Radiation-induced brain injury: low-hanging fruit for neuroregeneration

Neurosurg Focus. 2016 May;40(5):E3. doi: 10.3171/2016.2.FOCUS161.


Brain radiation is a fundamental tool in neurooncology to improve local tumor control, but it leads to profound and progressive impairments in cognitive function. Increased attention to quality of life in neurooncology has accelerated efforts to understand and ameliorate radiation-induced cognitive sequelae. Such progress has coincided with a new understanding of the role of CNS progenitor cell populations in normal cognition and in their potential utility for the treatment of neurological diseases. The irradiated brain exhibits a host of biochemical and cellular derangements, including loss of endogenous neurogenesis, demyelination, and ablation of endogenous oligodendrocyte progenitor cells. These changes, in combination with a state of chronic neuroinflammation, underlie impairments in memory, attention, executive function, and acquisition of motor and language skills. Animal models of radiation-induced brain injury have demonstrated a robust capacity of both neural stem cells and oligodendrocyte progenitor cells to restore cognitive function after brain irradiation, likely through a combination of cell replacement and trophic effects. Oligodendrocyte progenitor cells exhibit a remarkable capacity to migrate, integrate, and functionally remyelinate damaged white matter tracts in a variety of preclinical models. The authors here critically address the opportunities and challenges in translating regenerative cell therapies from rodents to humans. Although valiant attempts to translate neuroprotective therapies in recent decades have almost uniformly failed, the authors make the case that harnessing human radiation-induced brain injury as a scientific tool represents a unique opportunity to both successfully translate a neuroregenerative therapy and to acquire tools to facilitate future restorative therapies for human traumatic and degenerative diseases of the central nervous system.

Keywords: BrdU = bromodeoxyuridine; ESC = embryonic stem cell; IMRT = intensity-modulated radiation therapy; NSC = neural stem cell; OPC = oligodendrocyte progenitor cell; SRS = stereotactic radiosurgery; WBRT = whole-brain radiation therapy; brain injury; myelination; neurogenesis; neuroregeneration; oligodendrocyte progenitor cell; radiation; transplantation.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Injuries / complications
  • Brain Injuries / etiology*
  • Brain Injuries / psychology
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Humans
  • Nerve Regeneration / physiology*
  • Oligodendroglia / physiology
  • Quality of Life
  • Radiation Injuries / complications*
  • Stem Cells / physiology