Preclinical modeling of exposure to a global marine bio-contaminant: Effects of in utero Domoic acid exposure on neonatal behavior and infant memory

Neurotoxicol Teratol. 2019 May-Jun;73:1-8. doi: 10.1016/ Epub 2019 Jan 25.


Domoic Acid (DA) is a naturally-occurring marine neurotoxin that is increasingly recognized as an important public health issue. Prenatal DA exposure occurs through the maternal consumption of contaminated shellfish/finfish. To better understand the fetal risks associated with DA, we initiated a longitudinal, preclinical study focused on the reproductive and developmental effects of chronic, low-dose oral DA exposure. To this end, 32 adult female Macaca fascicularis monkeys were orally dosed with 0, 0.075 or 0.15 mg/kg/day DA on a daily basis prior to breeding and throughout breeding and pregnancy. The doses included the proposed human Tolerable Daily Intake (TDI) (0.075 mg/kg/day) for DA. Adult females were bred to nonexposed males. To evaluate development during early infancy, offspring were administered a Neonatal Assessment modeled after the human Neonatal Behavior Assessment Scale and a series of Visual Recognition Memory problems using the novelty paradigm. Results indicated that prenatal DA exposure did not impact early survival reflexes or responsivity to the environment. Findings from the recognition memory assessment, given between 1 and 2 months of age, showed that exposed and control infants demonstrated robust novelty scores when test problems were relatively easy to solve. Performance was not diminished by the introduction of delay periods. However, when more difficult recognition problems were introduced, the looking behavior of the 0.15 mg/kg DA group was random and infants failed to show differential visual attention to novel test stimuli. This finding suggests subtle but significant impairment in recognition memory and demonstrates that chronic fetal exposure to DA may impact developing cognitive processes.

Keywords: Domoic acid; Infant; Macaque; Memory; Prenatal exposure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn / psychology*
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Female
  • Kainic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Kainic Acid / blood
  • Kainic Acid / toxicity
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Male
  • Marine Toxins / blood
  • Marine Toxins / toxicity*
  • Memory / drug effects*
  • Neurotoxins / blood
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / blood
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / etiology*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology


  • Marine Toxins
  • Neurotoxins
  • domoic acid
  • Kainic Acid