Space radiation risks to the central nervous system

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Central nervous system (CNS) risks which include during space missions and lifetime risks due to space radiation exposure are of concern for long-term exploration missions to Mars or other destinations. Possible CNS risks during a mission are altered cognitive function, including detriments in short-term memory, reduced motor function, and behavioral changes, which may affect performance and human health. The late CNS risks are possible neurological disorders such as premature aging, and Alzheimer's disease (AD) or other dementia. Radiation safety requirements are intended to prevent all clinically significant acute risks. However the definition of clinically significant CNS risks and their dependences on dose, dose-rate and radiation quality is poorly understood at this time. For late CNS effects such as increased risk of AD, the occurrence of the disease is fatal with mean time from diagnosis of early stage AD to death about 8 years. Therefore if AD risk or other late CNS risks from space radiation occur at mission relevant doses, they would naturally be included in the overall acceptable risk of exposure induced death (REID) probability for space missions. Important progress has been made in understanding CNS risks due to space radiation exposure, however in general the doses used in experimental studies have been much higher than the annual galactic cosmic ray (GCR) dose (∼0.1 Gy/y at solar maximum and ∼0.2 Gy/y at solar minimum with less than 50% from HZE particles). In this report we summarize recent space radiobiology studies of CNS effects from particle accelerators simulating space radiation using experimental models, and make a critical assessment of their relevance relative to doses and dose-rates to be incurred on a Mars mission. Prospects for understanding dose, dose-rate and radiation quality dependencies of CNS effects and extrapolation to human risk assessments are described. © 2014 The Committee on Space Research (COSPAR).




Cucinotta, F. A., Alp, M., Sulzman, F. M., & Wang, M. (2014). Space radiation risks to the central nervous system. Life Sciences in Space Research. Elsevier Ltd.

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