Memantine in the Prevention of Radiation-Induced Brain Damage: A Narrative Review

Cancers (Basel). 2022 May 31;14(11):2736. doi: 10.3390/cancers14112736.


Preserving cognitive functions is a priority for most patients with brain metastases. Knowing the mechanisms of hyperglutamatergic neurotoxicity and the role of some hippocampal areas in cognitive decline (CD) led to testing both the antiglutamatergic pharmacological prophylaxis and hippocampal-sparing whole-brain radiotherapy (WBRT) techniques. These studies showed a relative reduction in CD four to six months after WBRT. However, the failure to achieve statistical significance in one study that tested memantine alone (RTOG 0614) led to widespread skepticism about this drug in the WBRT setting. Moreover, interest grew in the reasons for the strong patient dropout rates in the first few months after WBRT and for early CD onset. In fact, the latter can only partially be explained by subclinical tumor progression. An emerging interpretation of the (not only) cognitive impairment during and immediately after WBRT is the dysfunction of the limbic and hypothalamic system with its immune and hormonal consequences. This new understanding of WBRT-induced toxicity may represent the basis for further innovative trials. These studies should aim to: (i) evaluate in greater detail the cognitive effects and, more generally, the quality of life impairment during and immediately after WBRT; (ii) study the mechanisms producing these early effects; (iii) test in clinical studies, the modern and advanced WBRT techniques based on both hippocampal-sparing and hypothalamic-pituitary-sparing, currently evaluated only in planning studies; (iv) test new timings of antiglutamatergic drugs administration aimed at preventing not only late toxicity but also acute effects.

Keywords: brain damage; literature review; memantine; prophylaxis; radiotherapy.

Publication types

  • Review

Grants and funding

This research received no external funding.