Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science in Biology



First Reader/Committee Chair

Nicole Bournias-Vardiabasis


Clinical radiotherapy is used to treat a variety of brain tumors within the central nervous system. While effective, it can result in progressive and debilitating cognitive impairment that can diminish quality of life. These impairments have been linked to hippocampal dysfunction and corresponding deficits in spatial learning and memory. Mossy cells are a major population of excitatory neurons located within the dentate hilus and highly involved in hippocampal circuitry. They play critical roles in spatial navigation, neurogenesis, memory, and are particularly vulnerable to a variety of neurotoxic insults. However, their sensitivity to ionizing radiation has yet to be investigated in detail. I hypothesize that mossy cells are critical targets for ionizing radiation, whereby damage to these targets contributes to the mechanisms associated with radiation-induced hippocampal dysfunction.

To test this idea, wild-type mice were exposed to clinically relevant doses of cranial x-ray irradiation and their hippocampi were examined 1 month and 3 months post treatment. A significant decline in both the number of mossy cells and their activity were observed. In addition, dentate granular cells demonstrated reduced levels of activity, as well as reduced proliferation within the subgranular zone. A second cohort of mice was introduced to a novel environment in order to induce the expression of immediate early genes. Analysis of c-Fos mRNA yielded a significant increase in control but not irradiated animals, suggesting that radiotherapy impaired immediate early gene expression and resultant functional behavioral outcomes. These findings support the proposition that radiation-induced damage to mossy cells contributes to hippocampal deficiencies which result in cognitive dysfunction.