Organophosphorus (OP) insecticides are pest-control agents heavily used worldwide. Unfortunately, they are also well known for the toxic effects that they can trigger in humans. Clinical manifestations of an acute exposure of humans to OP insecticides include a well-defined cholinergic crisis that develops as a result of the irreversible inhibition of acetylcholinesterase (AChE), the enzyme that hydrolyzes the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh). Prolonged exposures to levels of OP insecticides that are insufficient to trigger signs of acute intoxication, which are hereafter referred to as subacute exposures, have also been associated with neurological deficits. In particular, epidemiological studies have reported statistically significant correlations between prenatal subacute exposures to OP insecticides, including chlorpyrifos, and neurological deficits that range from cognitive impairments to tremors in childhood. The primary objectives of this article are: (i) to address the short- and long-term neurological issues that have been associated with acute and subacute exposures of humans to OP insecticides, especially early in life (ii) to discuss the translational relevance of animal models of developmental exposure to OP insecticides, and (iii) to review mechanisms that are likely to contribute to the developmental neurotoxicity of OP insecticides. Most of the discussion will be focused on chlorpyrifos, the top-selling OP insecticide in the United States and throughout the world. These points are critical for the identification and development of safe and effective interventions to counter and/or prevent the neurotoxic effects of these chemicals in the developing brain. This is an article for the special issue XVth International Symposium on Cholinergic Mechanisms.
Keywords: acetylcholinesterase; brain; chlorpyrifos; development; learning; memory.
© 2017 International Society for Neurochemistry.