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20 July 2022 Similar Loss of Executive Function Performance after Exposure to Low (10 cGy) Doses of Single (4He) Ions and the Multi-Ion GCRSim Beam
Richard A. Britten, Arriyam Fesshaye, Alyssa Tidmore, Ashley A. Blackwell
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While astronauts are trained to deal with multiple issues that they are likely to encounter during a mission, it is likely that some problems will arise that astronauts have no direct experience in resolving. During International Space Station (ISS) missions, astronauts can rely on Mission Control to help resolve complex problems, however during the long-duration space missions planned to the Moon and Mars, astronauts will have to act more autonomously, thus the ability of astronauts to conduct executive function will be critical for problem solving during deep space missions. Several studies have shown that exposure to space radiation results in decreased executive function performance. However, to date these studies have used single ions, whereas there is a complex mixture of ion species and energies within the space-radiation spectrum that astronauts will be exposed to. Thus, there is some concern that the neurocognitive impairments reported from single ion studies will not be representative of the severity, frequency or nature of cognitive deficits that arise following exposure to more complex space-radiation spectra. The current study has determined the relative impact that isodoses of He ions or the simplified 6-ion-galactic cosmic ray simulation (GCRSim) beams had on the performance of male Wistar rats in executive function tasks, attentional set shifting (ATSET) task and unconstrained cognitive flexibility (UCFlex). Exposure to 10 cGy GCRSim induced performance deficits in the simple discrimination (SD) stage of the ATSET task, which appears to be universally impacted by all space-radiation ions studied to date. The magnitude of the SD performance decrements in the GCRSim-irradiated rats were comparable to those observed in He-irradiated rats. Importantly, space-radiation exposure does not appear to decrease the ability of rats to identify the key cues in the ATSET task, but increased the time/number of iterations required to successfully find the solution. Practice effect (PE) analysis (comparing prescreen to the postirradiation SD performance) revealed that while the sham-treated rats completed the second ATSET task in 30% less time than they did the prescreen ATSET test (despite the perceptual domain of the relevant (rewarded) cue being changed), the space-radiation-exposed rats took 50% longer to do so. The space-radiation-induced delay in problem solving was not confined to the ATSET task, but was also observed when rats were screened for UCFlex performance. Should similar changes occur in astronauts, these data raise the possibility that space-radiation exposure would reduce in-flight improvement in performance in repetitive tasks (PE) and may lead to a reduced ability to utilize transitive inference from “similar” problems to solve issues that have not been previously encountered.

©2022 by Radiation Research Society. All rights of reproduction in any form reserved.
Richard A. Britten, Arriyam Fesshaye, Alyssa Tidmore, and Ashley A. Blackwell "Similar Loss of Executive Function Performance after Exposure to Low (10 cGy) Doses of Single (4He) Ions and the Multi-Ion GCRSim Beam," Radiation Research 198(4), 375-383, (20 July 2022).
Received: 13 January 2022; Accepted: 14 June 2022; Published: 20 July 2022

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