Whole-brain irradiation (WBI, also known as whole-brain radiation therapy) is a mainstay treatment modality for patients with multiple brain metastases. It is also used as a prophylactic treatment for microscopic tumors that cannot be detected by magnetic resonance imaging. WBI induces a progressive cognitive decline in ~ 50% of the patients surviving over 6 months, significantly compromising the quality of life. There is increasing preclinical evidence that radiation-induced injury to the cerebral microvasculature and accelerated neurovascular senescence plays a central role in this side effect of WBI. To better understand this side effect, male C57BL/6 mice were first subjected to a clinically relevant protocol of fractionated WBI (5 Gy, two doses per week, for 4 weeks). Nine months post the WBI treatment, we applied two-photon microscopy and Doppler optical coherence tomography to measure capillary red-blood-cell (RBC) flux, capillary morphology, and microvascular oxygen partial pressure (PO2) in the cerebral somatosensory cortex in the awake, head-restrained, WPI-treated mice and their age-matched controls, through a cover-glass-sealed chronic cranial window. Thanks to the extended penetration depth with the fluorophore — Alexa680, measurements of capillary blood flow properties (e.g., RBC flux, speed, and linear density) in the cerebral subcortical white matter were enabled. We found that the WBI-treated mice exhibited a significantly decreased capillary RBC flux in the white matter. WBI also caused a significant reduction in capillary diameter, as well as a large (although insignificant) reduction in segment density at the deeper cortical layers (e.g., 600–700 μm), while the other morphological properties (e.g., segment length and tortuosity) were not obviously affected. In addition, we found that PO2 measured in the arterioles and venules, as well as the calculated oxygen saturation and oxygen extraction fraction, were not obviously affected by WBI. Lastly, WBI was associated with a significant increase in the erythrocyte-associated transients of PO2, while the changes of other cerebral capillary PO2 properties (e.g., capillary mean-PO2, RBC-PO2, and InterRBC-PO2) were not significant. Collectively, our findings support the notion that WBI results in persistent cerebral white matter microvascular impairment, which likely contributes to the WBI-induced brain injury and cognitive decline. Further studies are warranted to assess the WBI-induced changes in brain tissue oxygenation and malfunction of the white matter microvasculature as well.
- Microvascular blood flow
- Optical microscopy
- Vascular cognitive impairment
- White matter
- Whole-brain radiation