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J Comp Neurol. 2004 Mar 8;470(3):221-39.

Bromodeoxyuridine administered during neurogenesis of the projection neurons causes cerebellar defects in rat.

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Northwestern University Institute for Neuroscience, Chicago, Illinois 60611, USA.


Bromodeoxyuridine (BrdU) is broadly used in neuroscience to study embryonic development and adult neurogenesis. The potential toxicity of this halogenated pyrimidine analogue is frequently neglected. In this study, we administered BrdU in small doses by the progressively delayed cumulative labeling method to immunocytochemically tag different cerebellar cell types with antibodies to specific markers and BrdU in the same section. The well-known structure of the cerebellum made it possible to ascertain several toxic effects of the treatment. Time-pregnant rats were given five or six injections of 5 or 6 mg of BrdU ( approximately 12-20 mg/kg) at 8-hour intervals over 2 successive days between day 11 and 21 of pregnancy (E11-E12 to E20-E21), and the adult progeny was processed by immunocytochemistry. We demonstrate that this treatment effectively labeled distinct cerebellar cell populations but produced striking defects in the proliferation, migration, and settling of the Purkinje cells; reduced the size of the cerebellar cortex and nuclei; produced defects in the patterning of foliation; and also affected litter size, body weight, and mortality of the offspring. The observed toxic effects were consistent within individual treatment groups but varied between different treatment groups. Treatment with BrdU at the peak of neurogenesis of cerebellar projection neurons (E14) produced the most severe malformations. We observed no overt effects on the timing of neurogenesis for cerebellar neurons and glia across experimental groups. In conclusion, BrdU is a useful tool to study neural development, but its cytotoxicity represents a serious pitfall particularly when multiple doses are used to label cells.

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