Comparative developmental neurotoxicity of organophosphates in vivo: transcriptional responses of pathways for brain cell development, cell signaling, cytotoxicity and neurotransmitter systems

Brain Res Bull. 2007 May 30;72(4-6):232-74. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2007.01.005. Epub 2007 Jan 25.


Organophosphates affect mammalian brain development through a variety of mechanisms beyond their shared property of cholinesterase inhibition. We used microarrays to characterize similarities and differences in transcriptional responses to chlorpyrifos and diazinon, assessing defined gene groupings for the pathways known to be associated with the mechanisms and/or outcomes of chlorpyrifos-induced developmental neurotoxicity. We exposed neonatal rats to daily doses of chlorpyrifos (1mg/kg) or diazinon (1 or 2mg/kg) on postnatal days 1-4 and evaluated gene expression profiles in brainstem and forebrain on day 5; these doses produce little or no cholinesterase inhibition. We evaluated pathways for general neural cell development, cell signaling, cytotoxicity and neurotransmitter systems, and identified significant differences for >60% of 252 genes. Chlorpyrifos elicited major transcriptional changes in genes involved in neural cell growth, development of glia and myelin, transcriptional factors involved in neural cell differentiation, cAMP-related cell signaling, apoptosis, oxidative stress, excitotoxicity, and development of neurotransmitter synthesis, storage and receptors for acetylcholine, serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Diazinon had similar effects on many of the same processes but also showed major differences from chlorpyrifos. Our results buttress the idea that different organophosphates target multiple pathways involved in neural cell development but also that they deviate in key aspects that may contribute to disparate neurodevelopmental outcomes. Equally important, these pathways are compromised at exposures that are unrelated to biologically significant cholinesterase inhibition and its associated signs of systemic toxicity. The approach used here demonstrates how planned comparisons with microarrays can be used to screen for developmental neurotoxicity.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Brain / cytology
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Female
  • Gene Expression Regulation, Developmental / drug effects*
  • Microarray Analysis / methods
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / genetics
  • Nerve Tissue Proteins / metabolism
  • Neurons / drug effects*
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / metabolism*
  • Organophosphates / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects*


  • Nerve Tissue Proteins
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Organophosphates