Chronic exposure to glufosinate-ammonium induces spatial memory impairments, hippocampal MRI modifications and glutamine synthetase activation in mice

Neurotoxicology. 2008 Jul;29(4):740-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2008.04.020. Epub 2008 May 4.


Glufosinate-ammonium (GLA), the active compound of a worldwide-used herbicide, acts by inhibiting the plant glutamine synthetase (GS) leading to a lethal accumulation of ammonia. GS plays a pivotal role in the mammalian brain where it allows neurotransmitter glutamate recycling within astroglia. Clinical studies report that an acute GLA ingestion induces convulsions and memory impairment in humans. Toxicological studies performed at doses used for herbicidal activity showed that GLA is probably harmless at short or medium range periods. However, effects of low doses of GLA on chronically exposed subjects are not known. In our study, C57BL/6J mice were treated during 10 weeks three times a week with 2.5, 5 and 10mg/kg of GLA. Effects of this chronic treatment were assessed at behavioral, structural and metabolic levels by using tests of spatial memory, locomotor activity and anxiety, hippocampal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) texture analysis, and hippocampal GS activity assay, respectively. Chronic GLA treatments have effects neither on anxiety nor on locomotor activity of mice but at 5 and 10mg/kg induce (1) mild memory impairments, (2) a modification of hippocampal texture and (3) a significant increase in hippocampal GS activity. It is suggested that these modifications may be causally linked one to another. Since glutamate is the main neurotransmitter in hippocampus where it plays a crucial role in spatial memory, hippocampal MRI texture and spatial memory alterations might be the consequences of hippocampal glutamate homeostasis modification revealed by increased GS activity in hippocampus. The present study provides the first data that show cerebral alterations after chronic exposure to GLA.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aminobutyrates / toxicity*
  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Enzyme Activation / drug effects
  • Exploratory Behavior / drug effects
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase / metabolism*
  • Hippocampus / drug effects*
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Memory Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Memory Disorders / enzymology
  • Memory Disorders / pathology
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Space Perception / drug effects*
  • Time Factors


  • Aminobutyrates
  • phosphinothricin
  • Glutamate-Ammonia Ligase