Exercise ameliorates neurocognitive impairments in a translational model of pediatric radiotherapy

Iman Sahnoune, Taeko Inoue, Shelli R. Kesler, Shaefali P. Rodgers, Omaima M. Sabek, Steen E. Pedersen, Janice A. Zawaski, Katharine H. Nelson, M. Douglas Ris, J. Leigh Leasure, M. Waleed Gaber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Background While cranial radiation therapy (CRT) is an effective treatment, healthy areas surrounding irradiation sites are negatively affected. Frontal lobe functions involving attention, processing speed, and inhibition control are impaired. These deficits appear months to years after CRT and impair quality of life. Exercise has been shown to rejuvenate the brain and aid in recovery post-injury through its effects on neurogenesis and cognition. Methods We developed a juvenile rodent CRT model that reproduces neurocognitive deficits. Next, we utilized the model to test whether exercise ameliorates these deficits. Fischer rats (31 days old) were irradiated with a fractionated dose of 4 Gy × 5 days, trained and tested at 6, 9, and 12 months post-CRT using 5-choice serial reaction time task. After testing, fixed rat brains were imaged using diffusion tensor imaging and immunohistochemistry. Results CRT caused early and lasting impairments in task acquisition, accuracy, and latency to correct response, as well as causing stunting of growth and changes in brain volume and diffusion. Exercising after irradiation improved acquisition, behavioral control, and processing speed, mitigated the stunting of brain size, and increased brain fiber numbers compared with sedentary CRT values. Further, exercise partially restored global connectome organization, including assortativity and characteristic path length, and while it did not improve the specific regional connections that were lowered by CRT, it appeared to remodel these connections by increasing connectivity between alternate regional pairs. Conclusions Our data strongly suggest that exercise may be useful in combination with interventions aimed at improving cognitive outcome following pediatric CRT.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)695-704
Number of pages10
Issue number5
StatePublished - Apr 9 2018


  • 5-CSRTT
  • attention
  • exercise
  • pediatric cancer
  • radiation therapy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oncology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cancer Research


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