Developmental neurotoxicity targeting hepatic and cardiac sympathetic innervation: effects of organophosphates are distinct from those of glucocorticoids

Brain Res Bull. 2011 May 30;85(3-4):225-30. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2011.03.021. Epub 2011 Mar 29.


Early-life exposure to organophosphate pesticides leads to subsequent hyperresponsiveness of β-adrenergic receptor-mediated cell signaling that regulates hepatic gluconeogenesis, culminating in metabolic abnormalities resembling prediabetes. In the current study, we evaluated the effects of chlorpyrifos or parathion on presynaptic sympathetic innervation to determine whether the postsynaptic signaling effects are accompanied by defects in neuronal input. We administered either chlorpyrifos or parathion to newborn rats using exposure paradigms known to elicit the later metabolic changes but found no alterations in either hepatic or cardiac norepinephrine levels in adolescence or adulthood. However, shifting chlorpyrifos exposure to the prenatal period did evoke changes: exposure early in gestation produced subsequent elevations in norepinephrine, whereas later gestational exposure produced significant deficits. We also distinguished the organophosphate effects from those of the glucocorticoid, dexamethasone, a known endocrine disruptor that leads to later-life metabolic and cardiovascular disruption. Postnatal exposure to dexamethasone elicited deficits in peripheral norepinephrine levels but prenatal exposure did not. Our results indicate that early-life exposure to organophosphates leads to subsequent abnormalities of peripheral sympathetic innervation through mechanisms entirely distinct from those of glucocorticoids, ruling out the possibility that the organophosphate effects are secondary to stress or disruption of the HPA axis. Further, the effects on innervation were separable from those on postsynaptic signaling, differing in critical period as well as tissue- and sex-selectivity. Organophosphate targeting of both presynaptic and postsynaptic β-adrenergic sites, each with different critical periods of vulnerability, thus sets the stage for compounding of hepatic and cardiac functional abnormalities.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Analysis of Variance
  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Chlorpyrifos / toxicity
  • Dexamethasone / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage
  • Glucocorticoids / metabolism*
  • Heart / drug effects
  • Heart / innervation*
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / innervation*
  • Male
  • Norepinephrine / administration & dosage
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism*
  • Organophosphates / toxicity*
  • Parathion / toxicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / physiopathology
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Sympathetic Nervous System / drug effects*


  • Glucocorticoids
  • Organophosphates
  • Parathion
  • Dexamethasone
  • Chlorpyrifos
  • Norepinephrine