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Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2000 Sep;67(1):37-44.

Behavioral and neural toxicity of the artemisinin antimalarial, arteether, but not artesunate and artelinate, in rats.

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Division of Neurosciences, Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, 503 Robert Grant Avenue, Silver Spring, MD 20910-7500, USA.


Three artemisinin antimalarials, arteether (AE), artesunate (AS), and artelinate (AL) were evaluated in rats using an auditory discrimination task (ADT) and neurohistology. After rats were trained on the ADT, equimolar doses of AE (25 mg/kg, in sesame oil, n=6), AS (31 mg/kg, in sodium carbonate, n=6), and AL (36 mg/kg, in saline, n=6), or vehicle (sodium carbonate, n=6) were administered (IM) for 7 consecutive days. Behavioral performance was evaluated, during daily sessions, before, during, and after administration. Histological evaluation of the brains was performed using thionine staining, and damaged cells were counted in specific brainstem nuclei of all rats. Behavioral performance was not significantly affected in any rats treated with AS, AL, or vehicle. Furthermore, histological examination of the brains of rats treated with AS, AL, and vehicle did not show damage. In stark contrast, all rats treated with AE showed a progressive and severe decline in performance on the ADT. The deficit was characterized by decreases in accuracy, increases in response time and, eventually, response suppression. When performance on the ADT was suppressed, rats also showed gross behavioral signs of toxicity that included tremor, gait disturbances, and lethargy. Subsequent histological assessment of AE-treated rats revealed marked damage in the brainstem nuclei, ruber, superior olive, trapezoideus, and inferior vestibular. The damage included chromatolysis, necrosis, and gliosis. These results demonstrate distinct differences in the ability of artemisinins to produce neurotoxicity. Further research is needed to uncover pharmacokinetic and metabolic differences in artemisinins that may predict neurotoxic potential.

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