Differential Sensitivity of Plasma Carboxylesterase-Null Mice to Parathion, Chlorpyrifos and Chlorpyrifos Oxon, but Not to Diazinon, Dichlorvos, Diisopropylfluorophosphate, Cresyl Saligenin Phosphate, Cyclosarin Thiocholine, Tabun Thiocholine, and Carbofuran

Chem Biol Interact. 2012 Feb 5;195(3):189-98. doi: 10.1016/j.cbi.2011.12.006. Epub 2011 Dec 24.


Mouse blood contains four esterases that detoxify organophosphorus compounds: carboxylesterase, butyrylcholinesterase, acetylcholinesterase, and paraoxonase-1. In contrast human blood contains the latter three enzymes but not carboxylesterase. Organophosphorus compound toxicity is due to inhibition of acetylcholinesterase. Symptoms of intoxication appear after approximately 50% of the acetylcholinesterase is inhibited. However, complete inhibition of carboxylesterase and butyrylcholinesterase has no known effect on an animal's well being. Paraoxonase hydrolyzes organophosphorus compounds and is not inhibited by them. Our goal was to determine the effect of plasma carboxylesterase deficiency on response to sublethal doses of 10 organophosphorus toxicants and one carbamate pesticide. Homozygous plasma carboxylesterase deficient ES1(-/-) mice and wild-type littermates were observed for toxic signs and changes in body temperature after treatment with a single sublethal dose of toxicant. Inhibition of plasma acetylcholinesterase, butyrylcholinesterase, and plasma carboxylesterase was measured. It was found that wild-type mice were protected from the toxicity of 12.5mg/kg parathion applied subcutaneously. However, both genotypes responded similarly to paraoxon, cresyl saligenin phosphate, diisopropylfluorophosphate, diazinon, dichlorvos, cyclosarin thiocholine, tabun thiocholine, and carbofuran. An unexpected result was the finding that transdermal application of chlorpyrifos at 100mg/kg and chlorpyrifos oxon at 14mg/kg was lethal to wild-type but not to ES1(-/-) mice, showing that with this organochlorine, the presence of carboxylesterase was harmful rather than protective. It was concluded that carboxylesterase in mouse plasma protects from high toxicity agents, but the amount of carboxylesterase in plasma is too low to protect from low toxicity compounds that require high doses to inhibit acetylcholinesterase.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylcholinesterase / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Butyrylcholinesterase / metabolism
  • Carboxylesterase / blood*
  • Carboxylesterase / deficiency*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Knockout
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / toxicity*
  • Pesticides / toxicity*


  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pesticides
  • Carboxylesterase
  • Acetylcholinesterase
  • Butyrylcholinesterase