Developmental neurotoxicity of pyrethroid insecticides: critical review and future research needs

Environ Health Perspect. 2005 Feb;113(2):123-36. doi: 10.1289/ehp.7254.


Pyrethroid insecticides have been used for more than 40 years and account for 25% of the worldwide insecticide market. Although their acute neurotoxicity to adults has been well characterized, information regarding the potential developmental neurotoxicity of this class of compounds is limited. There is a large age dependence to the acute toxicity of pyrethroids in which neonatal rats are at least an order of magnitude more sensitive than adults to two pyrethroids. There is no information on age-dependent toxicity for most pyrethroids. In the present review we examine the scientific data related to potential for age-dependent and developmental neurotoxicity of pyrethroids. As a basis for understanding this neurotoxicity, we discuss the heterogeneity and ontogeny of voltage-sensitive sodium channels, a primary neuronal target of pyrethroids. We also summarize 22 studies of the developmental neurotoxicity of pyrethroids and review the strengths and limitations of these studies. These studies examined numerous end points, with changes in motor activity and muscarinic acetylcholine receptor density the most common. Many of the developmental neurotoxicity studies suffer from inadequate study design, problematic statistical analyses, use of formulated products, and/or inadequate controls. These factors confound interpretation of results. To better understand the potential for developmental exposure to pyrethroids to cause neurotoxicity, additional, well-designed and well-executed developmental neurotoxicity studies are needed. These studies should employ state-of-the-science methods to promote a greater understanding of the mode of action of pyrethroids in the developing nervous system.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Female
  • Insecticides / toxicity*
  • Mice
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / embryology
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / etiology*
  • Neurotoxicity Syndromes / metabolism
  • Pregnancy
  • Pyrethrins / toxicity*
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Muscarinic / drug effects
  • Receptors, Muscarinic / metabolism
  • Research Design
  • Risk Assessment
  • Sodium Channels / drug effects
  • Sodium Channels / physiology


  • Insecticides
  • Pyrethrins
  • Receptors, Muscarinic
  • Sodium Channels