Aromatic as well as aliphatic hydrocarbon solvent axonopathy

Int J Hyg Environ Health. 2002 Mar;205(1-2):131-6. doi: 10.1078/1438-4639-00138.


Superfund sites that contain mixtures of aromatic and aliphatic solvents represent an undefined health hazard. After prolonged exposure to relatively high levels of certain aliphatic solvents (e.g. n-hexane, 2-hexanone), humans and animals develop a dose-dependent neurodegeneration that occurs clinically as a symmetrical peripheral neuropathy. This is triggered by the action of 2,5-hexanedione (1,2-diacetylethane), a 1,4-diketone (gamma-diketone) metabolite that targets proteins required for the maintenance of neuronal (and testicular Sertoli cell) integrity. Certain aromatic solvents (1,2-diethylbenzene, 1,2,4-triethylbenzene) cause electrophysiological changes consistent with sensorimotor neuropathy in rodents, but the underlying mechanisms and pathogenesis are unclear. Our recent studies show that the o-diacetyl derivative and likely metabolite of 1,2-diethylbenzene, 1,2-diacetylbenzene, behaves as a neurotoxic (aromatic) gamma-diketone of high neurotoxic potency. Rats treated with 1,2-diacetylbenzene develop limb weakness associated with proximal, neurofilament-filled giant axonal swellings comparable to those seen in animals treated with the potent 3,4-dimethyl derivative of 2,5-hexanedione. The blue chromogen induced by treatment with 1,2-diacetylbenzene is under study as a possible urinary biomarker of exposure to aromatic solvents (e.g. 1,2-diethylbenzene, tetralin) with neurotoxic potential. Development and validation of sensitive new biomarkers, especially for non-cancer endpoints, will aid in assessing the health risk associated with exposure to hazardous substances at Superfund sites.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Axons / drug effects
  • Axons / pathology*
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Hazardous Waste
  • Humans
  • Nervous System Diseases / chemically induced*
  • Solvents / adverse effects*
  • Solvents / chemistry*


  • Biomarkers
  • Hazardous Waste
  • Solvents