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J Toxicol Environ Health. 1995 Feb;44(2):135-65.

Assessment of the neurotoxic potential of chlorpyrifos relative to other organophosphorus compounds: a critical review of the literature.

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Department of Environmental and Industrial Health, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor 48109-2029.


Chlorpyrifos (diethyl 3,5,6-trichloro-2-pyridyl phosphorothionate) is a broad-spectrum organophosphorus (OP) insecticide. Anticipated increases in the already extensive use of this compound have prompted this reassessment of its neurotoxicity. Because chlorpyrifos and other OP insecticides are designed to produce acute cholinergic effects through inhibition of acetylcholinesterase (AChE) and some OP compounds can cause OP compound-induced delayed neurotoxicity (OPIDN) via chemical modification of neurotoxic esterase (neuropathy target esterase, NTE), this review focuses on the capacity of chlorpyrifos to precipitate these and other adverse neurological consequences. Chlorpyrifos exhibits only moderate acute toxicity in many mammalian species, due largely to detoxification of the active metabolite, chlorpyrifos oxon, by A-esterases. Rats given large doses of chlorpyrifos (sc in oil) have prolonged inhibition of brain AChE, possibly due to slow release of the parent compound from a depot. Associated cognitive and motor deficits return to normal well before recovery of AChE activity and muscarinic receptor down-regulation, as expected from classic tolerance. Controlled studies of OP compound exposures in humans also indicate that cognitive dysfunction requires substantial AChE inhibition. Information is relatively sparse on neurological dysfunction that is secondary to theoretical reproductive, developmental, or immunological effects, but the best available data indicate that such effects are unlikely to result from exposures to chlorpyrifos. In accord with the much greater inhibitory potency of chlorpyrifos oxon for AChE than for NTE, clinical reports and experimental studies indicate that OPIDN from acute exposures to chlorpyrifos requires doses well in excess of the LD50, even when followed by repeated doses of the OPIDN potentiator phenylmethanesulfonyl fluoride (PMSF). Likewise, studies in hens show that subchronic exposures at the maximum tolerated daily dose do not result in OPIDN. Although exposure to chlorpyrifos as a result of normal use is unlikely to produce classical OPIDN, a recent report stated that mild reversible sensory neuropathy had occurred in eight patients who had been exposed subchronically to unknown amounts of chlorpyrifos. It is not clear whether these cases represent an incorrect linkage of cause and effect, a newly disclosed reversible sensory component of OPIDN, or an entirely new phenomenon. The question of the potential for chlorpyrifos to cause this mild sensory neuropathy could be resolved by the use of quantitative tests of sensory function in animal experiments and/or prospective studies of humans with known exposures to chlorpyrifos.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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