Exposure of laboratory rats to Benzo(a)pyrene (BaP), an environmental contaminant with its high lipophilicify which is widely dispersed in the environment and can easily cross the blood brain barrier presenting in the central nervous system, is associated with impaired learning and memory. The purpose of the research was to examine whether subchronic exposure to BaP affects spatial learning and memory, and how it alters normal gene expression in hippocampus, as well as selection of candidate genes involving neurotransmitter receptor attributed to learning and memory. Morris water maze (MWM) was used to evaluate behavioral differences between BaP-treated and vehicle-treated groups. To gain a better insight into the mechanism of BaP-induced neurotoxicity on learning and memory, we used whole genome oligo microarrays as well as Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) to assess the global impact of gene expression. Male Sprague-Dawley rats were intraperitoneally injected with 6.25mg/kg of BaP or vehicle for 14 weeks. The results from the Morris water maze (MWM) test showed that rats treated with BaP exhibited significantly higher mean latencies as compared to vehicle controls. BaP exposure significantly decreased the number of crossing the platform and the time spent in the target area. After the hippocampus was collected from each rat, total RNA was isolated. Microarray and PCR revealed that exposure to BaP affected mRNA expression of neurotransmitter receptors. The web tool DAVID was used to analyze the significantly enriched gene ontology (GO) and KEGG pathways in the differentially expressed genes. Analysis showed that the most significantly affected gene ontology category was behavior. Furthermore, the fourth highest significantly affected gene ontology category was learning and memory. KEGG molecular pathway analysis showed that "neuroactive ligand-receptor interaction" was affected by BaP with highest statistical significance, and 9 candidate neurotransmitter receptor genes involving learning and memory were selected out. Our results revealed a close link between behavioral changes and altered neurotransmitter receptor gene expression in BaP-treated rats.
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