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Human and animal studies suggest that exercise promotes healthy brain development and function, including promoting hippocampal growth. Childhood cancer survivors that have received cranial radiotherapy exhibit hippocampal volume deficits and are at risk of impaired cognitive function, thus they may benefit from regular exercise. While morphological changes induced by exercise have been characterized using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) in humans and animal models, evaluation of changes across the brain through development and following cranial radiation is lacking. In this study, we used high-resolution longitudinal MRI through development to evaluate the effects of exercise in a pediatric mouse model of cranial radiation. Female mice received whole-brain radiation (7 Gy) or sham radiation (0 Gy) at an infant equivalent age (P16). One week after irradiation, mice were housed in either a regular cage or a cage equipped with a running wheel. In vivo MRI was performed prior to irradiation, and at three subsequent timepoints to evaluate the effects of radiation and exercise. We used a linear mixed-effects model to assess volumetric and cortical thickness changes. Exercise caused substantial increases in the volumes of certain brain regions, notably the hippocampus in both irradiated and nonirradiated mice. Volume increases exceeded the deficits induced by cranial irradiation. The effect of exercise and irradiation on subregional hippocampal volumes was also characterized. In addition, we characterized cortical thickness changes across development and found that it peaked between P23 and P43, depending on the region. Exercise also induced regional alterations in cortical thickness after 3 weeks of voluntary exercise, while irradiation did not substantially alter cortical thickness. Our results show that exercise has the potential to alter neuroanatomical outcomes in both irradiated and nonirradiated mice. This supports ongoing research exploring exercise as a strategy for improving neurocognitive development for children, particularly those treated with cranial radiotherapy.

Original publication




Journal article


NMR Biomed

Publication Date



brain, exercise, hippocampus, mouse MRI, radiation