An Iatrogenic Model of Brain Small-Vessel Disease: Post-Radiation Encephalopathy

Int J Mol Sci. 2020 Sep 5;21(18):6506. doi: 10.3390/ijms21186506.


We studied 114 primitive cerebral neoplasia, that were surgically treated, and underwent radiotherapy (RT), and compared their results to those obtained by 190 patients diagnosed with subcortical vascular dementia (sVAD). Patients with any form of primitive cerebral neoplasia underwent whole-brain radiotherapy. All the tumor patients had regional field partial brain RT, which encompassed each tumor, with an average margin of 2.6 cm from the initial target tumor volume. We observed in our patients who have been exposed to a higher dose of RT (30-65 Gy) a cognitive and behavior decline similar to that observed in sVAD, with the frontal dysexecutive syndrome, apathy, and gait alterations, but with a more rapid onset and with an overwhelming effect. Multiple mechanisms are likely to be involved in radiation-induced cognitive impairment. The active site of RT brain damage is the white matter areas, particularly the internal capsule, basal ganglia, caudate, hippocampus, and subventricular zone. In all cases, radiation damage inside the brain mainly focuses on the cortical-subcortical frontal loops, which integrate and process the flow of information from the cortical areas, where executive functions are "elaborated" and prepared, towards the thalamus, subthalamus, and cerebellum, where they are continuously refined and executed. The active mechanisms that RT drives are similar to those observed in cerebral small vessel disease (SVD), leading to sVAD. The RT's primary targets, outside the tumor mass, are the blood-brain barrier (BBB), the small vessels, and putative mechanisms that can be taken into account are oxidative stress and neuro-inflammation, strongly associated with the alteration of NMDA receptor subunit composition.

Keywords: oxidative stress and neuro-inflammation; radiation-induced cognitive impairment; small vessel disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blood-Brain Barrier / pathology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain Diseases / pathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / complications
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / pathology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / pathology*
  • Dementia, Vascular / pathology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Iatrogenic Disease / prevention & control
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimmunomodulation / physiology
  • Oxidative Stress / physiology
  • Porencephaly / etiology
  • Porencephaly / pathology*
  • Radiotherapy / adverse effects
  • White Matter / pathology