Adenosine kinase inhibition protects against cranial radiation-induced cognitive dysfunction

Munjal M. Acharya, Janet E. Baulch, Theresa A. Lusardi, Barrett D. Allen, Nicole N. Chmielewski, Al Anoud D. Baddour, Charles L. Limoli, Detlev Boison

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Scopus citations


Clinical radiation therapy for the treatment of CNS cancers leads to unintended and debilitating impairments in cognition. Radiation-induced cognitive dysfunction is long lasting; however, the underlying molecular and cellular mechanisms are still not well established. Since ionizing radiation causes microglial and astroglial activation, we hypothesized that maladaptive changes in astrocyte function might be implicated in radiation-induced cognitive dysfunction. Among other gliotransmitters, astrocytes control the availability of adenosine, an endogenous neuroprotectant and modulator of cognition, via metabolic clearance through adenosine kinase (ADK). Adult rats exposed to cranial irradiation (10 Gy) showed significant declines in performance of hippocampal-dependent cognitive function tasks [novel place recognition, novel object recognition (NOR), and contextual fear conditioning (FC)] 1 month after exposure to ionizing radiation using a clinically relevant regimen. Irradiated rats spent less time exploring a novel place or object. Cranial irradiation also led to reduction in freezing behavior compared to controls in the FC task. Importantly, immunohistochemical analyses of irradiated brains showed significant elevation of ADK immunoreactivity in the hippocampus that was related to astrogliosis and increased expression of glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP). Conversely, rats treated with the ADK inhibitor 5-iodotubercidin (5-ITU, 3.1 mg/kg, i.p., for 6 days) prior to cranial irradiation showed significantly improved behavioral performance in all cognitive tasks 1 month post exposure. Treatment with 5-ITU attenuated radiation-induced astrogliosis and elevated ADK immunoreactivity in the hippocampus. These results confirm an astrocyte-mediated mechanism where preservation of extracellular adenosine can exert neuroprotection against radiation-induced pathology. These innovative findings link radiation-induced changes in cognition and CNS functionality to altered purine metabolism and astrogliosis, thereby linking the importance of adenosine homeostasis in the brain to radiation injury.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number42
JournalFrontiers in Molecular Neuroscience
Issue numberJUNE
StatePublished - Jun 3 2016


  • Adenosine
  • Adenosine kinase
  • Astrogliosis
  • Cancer therapy
  • Cognition
  • Neuroprotection
  • Radiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Molecular Biology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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