Radiation therapy impairs new memory formation in pediatric brain tumor patients

Young people who received radiation therapy for the most common pediatric brain tumor struggle to create new memories about specific events, according to a study of children and adolescents published in JNeurosci. Their ability to recall events prior to treatment, however, remains intact.

Although it greatly improves survival from a brain tumor, radiotherapy has disruptive effects on the developing brain. In their study of seven- to 18-year-olds who underwent radiotherapy as children and a healthy control group, Melanie Sekeres, Paul Frankland, and colleagues asked participants to recall two different memories — an event from the previous month and another from as long ago as they could remember.

The researchers found that the brain tumor patients reported fewer episodic details, such as time and place, about the recent memory and comparable episodic details about the old memory compared to the healthy children.

The preservation of old memories and difficulty forming new ones may be related to reduced neurogenesis in the hippocampus observed in these patients. Overall, the study suggests a previously unknown effect of radiotherapy on the ability to create personal memories that could impact a survivor’s quality of life.

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