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Neurotoxicology. 2016 Jan;52:127-33. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2015.11.014. Epub 2015 Nov 24.

Repeated low-dose organophosphate DFP exposure leads to the development of depression and cognitive impairment in a rat model of Gulf War Illness.

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Department of Neurology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23298, USA.
Department of Neurology, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23298, USA. Electronic address:


Approximately 175,000-250,000 of the returning veterans from the 1991 Persian Gulf War exhibit chronic multi-symptom illnesses that includes neurologic co-morbidities such as depression, anxiety and cognitive impairments. Amongst a host of causative factors, exposure to low levels of the nerve agent Sarin has been strongly implicated for expression of Gulf War Illness (GWI). Nerve agents similar to pesticides are organophosphate (OP) compounds. There is evidence from civilian population that exposure to OPs such as in agricultural workers and nerve agents such as the survivors and first-responders of the Tokyo subway Sarin gas attack suffer from chronic neurological problems similar to GWI symptoms. Given this unique chemical profile, OPs are ideal to study the effects of nerve agents and develop models of GWI in civilian laboratories. In this study, we used repeated low-dose exposure to OP agent diisopropyl fluorophosphate (DFP) over a 5-day period to approximate the duration and level of Sarin exposure during the Persian Gulf War. We tested the rats at 3-months post DFP exposure. Using a battery of behavioral assays, we observed the presence of symptoms of chronic depression, anxiety and memory problems as characterized by increased immobility time in the Forced Swim Test, anhedonia in the Sucrose Preference Test, anxiety in the Elevated Plus Maze, and spatial memory impairments in the Object Location Test, respectively. Chronic low dose DFP exposure was also associated with hippocampal neuronal damage as characterized by the presence of Fluoro-Jade staining. Given that OP exposure is considered a leading cause of GWI related morbidities, this animal model will be ideally suited to study underlying molecular mechanisms for the expression of GWI neurological symptoms and identify drugs for the effective treatment of GWIs.


Anxiety; DFP; Depression; Gulf War Illness; Memory impairments; Organophosphate

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