Late effects of a perinatal exposure to a 16 PAH mixture: Increase of anxiety-related behaviours and decrease of regional brain metabolism in adult male rats

Toxicol Lett. 2012 Jun 1;211(2):105-13. doi: 10.1016/j.toxlet.2012.03.005. Epub 2012 Mar 23.


Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitous pollutants originated from incomplete combustion processes. Ingestion of contaminated food is the main route of exposure for humans. These molecules are able to cross the placental barrier and are also found in breast milk. Since PAHs are neurotoxic agents, the potential adverse effects of a perinatal exposure of the developing brain is a key issue for public health especially concerning PAH mixture. In this study, female rats were exposed trough diet to a mixture of 16 PAHs, at doses of 2 μg/kg/day or 200 μg/kg/day during gestation and 1.5 μg/kg/day or 150 μg/kg/day during breast-feeding period. To assess late neurotoxic effects in male offsprings, behavioural and cognitive tests were carried out and histochemical analyses using cytochrome oxidase as a cerebral metabolism marker were performed on adult animals. Results showed that anxiety-related behaviours significantly increased in exposed animals, but there was no significant alteration of motor activity and learning and memory abilities. Several brain areas of the limbic system showed a neuronal hypometabolism in exposed animals. This work highlights that exposure to PAHs at early stages of brain development can cause later troubles on behaviour and that PAHs are able to partly alter the central nervous system metabolism on adulthood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anxiety / chemically induced
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / enzymology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / analysis
  • Electron Transport Complex IV / metabolism
  • Female
  • Histocytochemistry
  • Lactation
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar


  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
  • Electron Transport Complex IV