Organophosphates (OPs) pose a constant threat to human health due to their widespread use as pesticides and their potential employment in terrorist attacks. The acute toxicity of OPs has been extensively studied;however, the consequences of prolonged or repeated exposure to levels of OPs that produce no overt signs of acute toxicity are poorly understood. Further, there is clinical evidence that such low-level exposures to OPs leads to prolonged deficits in cognition, although the mechanism for this effect is unknown. One long- term goal of our laboratories is to elucidate the mechanisms responsible for the prolonged neurobehavioral deficits associated with chronic low-level OP exposures such that more effective therapeutic strategies can be developed. The results of our experiments conducted during the initial funding period established that low- level exposures to the commercial pesticide, chlorpyrifos, resulted in protracted deficits in prepulse inhibition (a model of pre-attentive processing) and spatial learning without significantly affecting locomotor function. Further, chlorpyrifos was associated with decreases in neurotrophin receptors and cholinergic proteins in brain regions that are important to cognitive function. These deficits were accompanied by decreases in axonal transport measured in sciatic nerves ex vivo. However, the molecular mechanisms for the deficits in axonal transport and the extent to which such effects on axonal transport occur in the brain are unclear. The objective of this application is to identify the mechanisms responsible for alterations in axonal transport as well as to further define the long-term effects of low-level OP exposure on cognitive function. Our central hypothesis is that OPs covalently modify key proteins that are involved in axonal transport and that such modifications compromise the function of neuronal pathways that support cognitive function. To achieve our objective, we propose three specific aims: 1) Determine the consequences of chronic low-level exposure to representative OPs on attention and cognitive flexibility, 2) Determine the consequences of chronic low-level exposure to representative OPs on axonal transport in the brain, and 3) Identify the molecular mechanisms responsible for OP-induced deficits in axonal transport. To address these aims, we will use a five choice serial reaction time task to assess sustained attention, a water maze task to measure extinction (a form of cognitive flexibility) and stereotaxic injections of traceable dextrans, immunohistochemistry, and mass spectrometry to determine OP effects on axonal transport in the brain and the consequences of its impairment. The significance of this project and its relevance to public health is that by mechanistically defining OPs based on their long-term effects on essential components of information processing in animals, we will have addressed a fundamental gap in our knowledge of how OPs likely affect humans over time. The experiments will contribute to a better understanding of the toxicity associated with a class of chemicals that continues to pose a significant environmental risk to millions of people worldwide.

Public Health Relevance

Organophosphates are highly toxic chemicals that are almost ubiquitous in our environment and, accordingly, they pose a significant health risk to millions of people worldwide. While the acute toxicity of these agents has been extensively studied, the effects of chronic low-level exposures to organophosphates (especially on cognition and the neuronal processes that support cognition) are poorly understood. The experiments proposed in this application have been designed to address these issues in the rodent model by mechanistically defining organophosphates based on their long-term effects on axonal transport (a fundamental process in neurons) and specific domains of cognitive function (i.e., attention and cognitive flexibility).

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Research Project (R01)
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Clinical Neuroplasticity and Neurotransmitters Study Section (CNNT)
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Kirshner, Annette G
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Georgia Regents University
Schools of Medicine
United States
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Naughton, Sean X; Terry Jr, Alvin V (2018) Neurotoxicity in acute and repeated organophosphate exposure. Toxicology 408:101-112
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