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Int J Occup Med Environ Health. 2009;22(3):277-91. doi: 10.2478/v10001-009-0020-9.

Neurobehavioural functions in adult progeny of rat mothers exposed to methylmercury or 2,2', 4,4', 5,5'-hexachlorobiphenyl (PCB 153) alone or their combination during gestation and lactation.

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Department of Toxicology and Carcinogenesis, Nofer Institute of Occupational Medicine, Łódź, Poland.



Methylmercury (MeHg) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are ubiquitous environmental pollutants. Both are neurotoxic, especially for the developing brain. The main source of human exposure to MeHg and PCBs is seafood. The aim of the present work was to find out whether and how separate or combined perinatal exposure to these neurotoxicants affects neurobehavioural functions in maturity.


The study was performed on adult Wistar rats, the progeny of rat mothers exposed to MeHg (0.5 mg/kg/day or 2.0 mg/kg/day), PCB 153 (1.0 mg/kg/day or 5.0 mg/kg/day), or to MeHg 0.5 mg/kg/day + PCB 153 5.0 mg/kg/day, from day 7 of pregnancy to day 21 post partum. The following functions were assessed: spontaneous locomotor activity (open field test), spatial short-term memory (radial maze test), long-term memory (passive avoidance test), sensitivity to pain and vulnerability to stress (hot plate test), efficiency of the sensorimotor gating (startle response test), and sensorimotor coordination (the rotarod test).


The results obtained in the MeHg part of the study showed a reduced locomotor activity in the female progeny of both exposed groups, an impaired passive avoidance in the male progeny of the high and low exposure group and a faster recovery from the effects of the stressful experience (hot plate test) in the male progeny of the high dose group. Results obtained in the PCB part showed an increased locomotor activity in the female progeny of both exposure groups and impairment in rotarod performance in males of the high dose group. Neurobehavioural alterations were not found in either the females or males exposed jointly to MeHg and PCB 153.


The results suggest that in condition of the combined exposure, MeHg may protect against the effects of PCB 153 and vice versa.

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