Examining the Effects of 4He Exposure on the Gut-Brain Axis

Carli B. Jones, Lauren B. Peiffer, Catherine Davis-Takacs, Karen S. Sfanos

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Beyond low-Earth orbit, space radiation poses significant risks to astronaut health. Previous studies have shown that the microbial composition of the gastrointestinal (GI) microbiome changes upon exposure to high-linear energy transfer radiation. Interestingly, radiation-induced shifts in GI microbiota composition are linked to various neuropsychological disorders. Herein, we aimed to study changes in GI microbiota and behaviors of rats exposed to whole-body radiation (0, 5 or 25 cGy 4He, 250 MeV/n) at approximately 6 months of age. Fecal samples were collected 24 h prior to 4He irradiation and 24 h and 7 days postirradiation for quantitative PCR analyses to assess fecal levels of spore-forming bacteria (SFB), Bifidobacterium, Lactobacillus and Akkermansia. Rats were also tested in the social odor recognition memory (SORM) test at day 7 after 4He exposure. A subset of rats was euthanized 90 min after completion of the SORM test, and GI tissue from small intestine to colon were prepared for examining overall histological changes and immunohistochemical staining for serotonin (5-HT). No notable pathological changes were observed in GI tissues. Akkermansia spp. and SFB were significantly decreased in the 25 cGy group at 24 h and 7 days postirradiation compared to pre-exposure, respectively. Bifidobacterium and Lactobacillus spp. showed no significant changes. 5-HT production was significantly higher in the proximal small intestine and the cecum in the 25 cGy group compared to the sham group. The 25 cGy group exhibited deficits in recognition in SORM testing at day 7 postirradiation. Taken together, these results suggest a connection between GI microbiome composition, serotonin production, and neurobehavioral performance, and that this connection may be disrupted upon exposure to 25 cGy of 4He ions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)242-252
Number of pages11
JournalRadiation research
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2022

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiation
  • Biophysics
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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