Radiation response of the central nervous system

T. E. Schultheiss, L. E. Kun, K. K. Ang, L. C. Stephens

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

555 Scopus citations


This report reviews the anatomical, pathophysiological, and clinical aspects of radiation injury to the central nervous system (CNS). Despite the lack of pathognomonic characteristics for CNS radiation lesions, demyelination and malacia are consistently the dominant morphological features of radiation myelopathy. In addition, cerebral atrophy is commonly observed in patients with neurological deficits related to chemotherapy and radiation, and neurocognitive deficits are associated with diffuse white matter changes. Clinical and experimental dose-response information have been evaluated and summarized into specific recommendations for the spinal cord and brain. The common spinal cord dose limit of 45 Gy in 22 to 25 fractions is conservative and can be relaxed if respecting this limit materially reduces the probability of tumor control. It is suggested that the 5% incidence of radiation myelopathy probably lies between 57 and 61 Gy to the spinal cord in the absence of dose modifying chemotherapy. A clinically detectable length effect for the spinal cord has not been observed. The effects of chemotherapy and altered fractionation are also discussed. Brain necrosis in adults is rarely noted below 60 Gy in conventional fractionation, with imaging and clinical changes being observed generally only above 50 Gy. However, neurocognitive effects are observed at lower doses, especially in children. A more pronounced volume effect is believed to exist in the brain than in the spinal cord. Tumor progression may be hard to distinguish from radiation and chemotherapy effects. Diffuse white matter injury can be attributed to radiation and associated with neurological deficits, but leukoencephalopathy is rarely observed in the absence of chemotherapy. Subjective, management, and analytic (SOMA) parameters related to radiation spinal cord and brain injury have been developed and presented on ordinal scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1093-1112
Number of pages20
JournalInternational journal of radiation oncology, biology, physics
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 30 1995

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Radiation
  • Oncology
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Cancer Research


Dive into the research topics of 'Radiation response of the central nervous system'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this