Therapeutic irradiation of the brain is associated with a number of adverse effects, including cognitive impairment. Although the pathogenesis of radiation-induced cognitive injury is unknown, it may involve loss of neural precursor cells from the subgranular zone (SGZ) of the hippocampal dentate gyrus and alterations in new cell production (neurogenesis). Young adult male C57BL mice received whole brain irradiation, and 6-48 h later, hippocampal tissue was assessed using immunohistochemistry for detection of apoptosis and numbers of proliferating cells and immature neurons. Apoptosis peaked 12 h after irradiation, and its extent was dose dependent. Forty-eight h after irradiation, proliferating SGZ cells were reduced by 93-96%; immature neurons were decreased from 40 to 60% in a dose-dependent fashion. To determine whether acute cell sensitivity translated into long-term changes, we quantified neurogenesis 2 months after irradiation with 0, 2, 5, or 10 Gy. Multiple injections of BrdUrd were given to label proliferating cells, and 3 weeks later, confocal microscopy was used to determine the percentage of BrdUrd-labeled cells that showed mature cell phenotypes. The production of new neurons was significantly reduced by X-rays; that change was dose dependent. In contrast, there were no apparent effects on the production of new astrocytes or oligodendrocytes. Measures of activated microglia indicated that changes in neurogenesis were associated with a significant inflammatory response. Given the known effects of radiation on cognitive function and the relationship between hippocampal neurogenesis and associated memory formation, our data suggest that precursor cell radiation response and altered neurogenesis may play a contributory if not causative role in radiation-induced cognitive impairment.