Primary brain targets of nerve agents: the role of the amygdala in comparison to the hippocampus

Neurotoxicology. 2009 Sep;30(5):772-6. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2009.06.011. Epub 2009 Jul 8.


Exposure to nerve agents and other organophosphorus acetylcholinesterases used in industry and agriculture can cause death, or brain damage, producing long-term cognitive and behavioral deficits. Brain damage is primarily caused by the intense seizure activity induced by these agents. Identifying the brain regions that respond most intensely to nerve agents, in terms of generating and spreading seizure activity, along with knowledge of the physiology and biochemistry of these regions, can facilitate the development of pharmacological treatments that will effectively control seizures even if administered when seizures are well underway. Here, we contrast the pathological (neuronal damage) and pathophysiological (neuronal activity) findings of responses to nerve agents in the amygdala and the hippocampus, the two brain structures that play a central role in the generation and spread of seizures. The evidence so far suggests that exposure to nerve agents causes significantly more damage in the amygdala than in the hippocampus. Furthermore, in in vitro brain slices, the amygdala generates prolonged, seizure-like neuronal discharges in response to the nerve agent soman, at a time when the hippocampus generates only interictal-like activity. In vivo experiments are now required to confirm the primary role that the amygdala seems to play in nerve agent-induced seizure generation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Amygdala / drug effects*
  • Amygdala / pathology
  • Amygdala / physiopathology
  • Animals
  • Chemical Warfare Agents / toxicity*
  • Hippocampus / drug effects*
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Hippocampus / physiopathology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Rats
  • Seizures / chemically induced
  • Seizures / pathology
  • Soman / toxicity*


  • Chemical Warfare Agents
  • Soman