Prenatal nicotine changes the response to postnatal chlorpyrifos: Interactions targeting serotonergic synaptic function and cognition

Brain Res Bull. 2015 Feb:111:84-96. doi: 10.1016/j.brainresbull.2015.01.003. Epub 2015 Jan 12.


Nicotine and chlorpyrifos are developmental neurotoxicants that target serotonin systems. We examined whether prenatal nicotine exposure alters the subsequent response to chlorpyrifos given postnatally. Pregnant rats received nicotine throughout gestation at 3mg/kg/day, a regimen designed to achieve plasma levels seen in smokers; chlorpyrifos was given to pups on postnatal days (PN) 1-4 at 1mg/kg, just above the detection threshold for brain cholinesterase inhibition. We assessed long-term effects from adolescence (PN30) through full adulthood (PN150), measuring the expression of serotonin receptors and serotonin turnover (index of presynaptic impulse activity) in cerebrocortical brain regions encompassing the projections that are known targets for nicotine and chlorpyrifos. Nicotine or chlorpyrifos individually increased the expression of serotonin receptors, with greater effects on males than on females and with distinct temporal and regional patterns indicative of adaptive synaptic changes rather than simply an extension of initial injury. This interpretation was confirmed by our finding an increase in serotonin turnover, connoting presynaptic serotonergic hyperactivity. Animals receiving the combined treatment showed a reduction in these adaptive effects on receptor binding and turnover relative to the individual agents, or even an effect in the opposite direction; further, normal sex differences in serotonin receptor concentrations were dissipated or reversed, an effect that was confirmed by behavioral evaluations in the Novel Objection Recognition Test. In addition to the known liabilities associated with maternal smoking during pregnancy, our results point to additional costs in the form of heightened vulnerability to neurotoxic chemicals encountered later in life.

Keywords: Chlorpyrifos; Nicotine; Novel Object Recognition; Organophosphate pesticides; Serotonin; Sex differences.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Chlorpyrifos / toxicity*
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Drug Interactions
  • Female
  • Male
  • Nicotine / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Recognition, Psychology / drug effects
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Sex Factors


  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin
  • Nicotine
  • Chlorpyrifos