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Environ Health Perspect. 2002 Nov;110(11):1097-103.

Developmental neurotoxicity of chlorpyrifos: what is the vulnerable period?

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Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.


Previously, we found that exposure of neonatal rats to chlorpyrifos (CPF) produced brain cell damage and loss, with resultant abnormalities of synaptic development. We used the same biomarkers to examine prenatal CPF treatment so as to define the critical period of vulnerability. One group of pregnant rats received CPF (subcutaneous injections in dimethyl sulfoxide vehicle) on gestational days (GD) 17-20, a peak period of neurogenesis; a second group was treated on GD9-12, the period of neural tube formation. In the GD17-20 group, the threshold for a reduction in maternal weight gain was 5 mg/kg/day; at or below that dose, there was no evidence (GD21) of general fetotoxicity as assessed by the number of fetuses or fetal body and tissue weights. Above the threshold, there was brain sparing (reduced body weight with an increase in brain/body weight ratio) and a targeting of the liver (reduced liver/body weight). Indices of cell packing density (DNA per gram of tissue) and cell number (DNA content) similarly showed effects only on the liver; however, there were significant changes in the protein/DNA ratio, an index of cell size, in fetal brain regions at doses as low as 1 mg/kg, below the threshold for inhibition of fetal brain cholinesterase (2 mg/kg). Indices of cholinergic synaptic development showed significant CPF-induced defects but only at doses above the threshold for cholinesterase inhibition. With earlier CPF treatment (GD9-12), there was no evidence of general fetotoxicity or alterations of brain cell development at doses up to the threshold for maternal toxicity (5 mg/kg), assessed on GD17 and GD21; however, augmentation of cholinergic synaptic markers was detected at doses as low as 1 mg/kg. Compared with previous work on postnatal CPF exposure, the effects seen here required doses closer to the threshold for fetal weight loss; this implies a lower vulnerability in the fetal compared with the neonatal brain. Although delayed neurotoxic effects of prenatal CPF may emerge subsequently in development, our results are consistent with the preferential targeting of late developmental events such as gliogenesis, axonogenesis, and synaptogenesis.

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