In the brain, apolipoprotein E (apoE) plays an important role in lipid transport and response to environmental and age-related challenges, including neuronal repair following injury. While much has been learned from radiation studies in rodents, a gap in our knowledge is how radiation might affect the brain in primates. This is important for assessing risk to the brain following radiotherapy as part of cancer treatment or environmental radiation exposure as part of a nuclear accident, bioterrorism, or a nuclear attack. In this study, we investigated the effects of ionizing radiation on brain volumes and apoE levels in the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, and hippocampus of Rhesus macaques that were part of the Nonhuman Primate Radiation Survivor Cohort at the Wake Forest University. This unique cohort is composed of Rhesus macaques that had previously received single total body doses of 6.5–8.05 Gy of ionizing radiation. Regional apoE levels predicted regional volume in the amygdala and the prefrontal cortex. In addition, apoE levels in the amygdala, but not the hippocampus, strongly predicted relative hippocampal volume. Finally, radiation dose negatively affected relative hippocampal volume when apoE levels in the amygdala were controlled for, suggesting a protective compensatory role of regional apoE levels following radiation exposure. In a supplementary analysis, there also was a robust positive relationship between the neuroprotective protein α-klotho and apoE levels in the amygdala, further supporting the potentially protective role of apoE. Increased understanding of the effects of IR in the primate brain and the role of apoE in the irradiated brain could inform future therapies to mitigate the adverse effects of IR on the CNS.
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