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Neuropathology. 2014 Apr;34(2):109-27. doi: 10.1111/neup.12061. Epub 2013 Sep 30.

Exposure to an organophosphate pesticide, individually or in combination with other Gulf War agents, impairs synaptic integrity and neuronal differentiation, and is accompanied by subtle microvascular injury in a mouse model of Gulf War agent exposure.

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Roskamp Institute, Sarasota, Florida, USA.


Gulf War illness (GWI) is a currently untreatable multi-symptom disorder experienced by 1990-1991 Persian Gulf War (GW) veterans. The characteristic hallmarks of GWI include cognitive dysfunction, tremors, migraine, and psychological disturbances such as depression and anxiety. Meta-analyses of epidemiological studies have consistently linked these symptomatic profiles to the combined exposure of GW agents such as organophosphate-based and pyrethroid-based pesticides (e.g. chlorpyrifos (CPF) and permethrin (PER) respectively) and the prophylactic use of pyridostigmine bromide (PB) as a treatment against neurotoxins. Due to the multi-symptomatic presentation of this illness and the lack of available autopsy tissue from GWI patients, very little is currently known about the distinct early pathological profile implicated in GWI (including its influence on synaptic function and aspects of neurogenesis). In this study, we used preclinical models of GW agent exposure to investigate whether 6-month-old mice exposed to CPF alone, or a combined dose of CPF, PB and PER daily for 10 days, demonstrate any notable pathological changes in hippocampal, cortical (motor, piriform) or amygdalar morphometry. We report that at an acute post-exposure time point (after 3 days), both exposures resulted in the impairment of synaptic integrity (reducing synaptophysin levels) in the CA3 hippocampal region and altered neuronal differentiation in the dentate gyrus (DG), demonstrated by a significant reduction in doublecortin positive cells. Both exposures also significantly increased astrocytic GFAP immunoreactivity in the piriform cortex, motor cortex and the basolateral amygdala and this was accompanied by an increase in (basal) brain acetylcholine (ACh) levels. There was no evidence of microglial activation or structural deterioration of principal neurons in these regions following exposure to CPF alone or in combination with PB and PER. Evidence of subtle microvascular injury was demonstrated by the reduction of platelet endothelial cell adhesion molecule (PECAM)-1 levels in CPF+PB+PER exposed group compared to control. These data support early (subtle) neurotoxic effects on the brain following exposure to GW agents.


Gulf war illness (GWI); astrocytes; microglia; microvessels; neurogenesis; synapses

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