Chronic, low-level oral exposure to marine toxin, domoic acid, alters whole brain morphometry in nonhuman primates

Neurotoxicology. 2019 May;72:114-124. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2019.02.016. Epub 2019 Feb 28.


Domoic acid (DA) is an excitatory neurotoxin produced by marine algae and responsible for Amnesiac Shellfish Poisoning in humans. Current regulatory limits (˜0.075-0.1 mg/kg/day) protect against acute toxicity, but recent studies suggest that the chronic consumption of DA below the regulatory limit may produce subtle neurotoxicity in adults, including decrements in memory. As DA-algal blooms are increasing in both severity and frequency, we sought to better understand the effects of chronic DA exposure on reproductive and neurobehavioral endpoints in a preclinical nonhuman primate model. To this end, we initiated a long-term study using adult, female Macaca fascicularis monkeys exposed to daily, oral doses of 0.075 or 0.15 mg/kg of DA for a range of 321-381, and 346-554 days, respectively. This time period included a pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, and postpartum period. Throughout these times, trained data collectors observed intentional tremors in some exposed animals during biweekly clinical examinations. The present study explores the basis of this neurobehavioral finding with in vivo imaging techniques, including diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging and spectroscopy. Diffusion tensor analyses revealed that, while DA exposed macaques did not significantly differ from controls, increases in DA-related tremors were negatively correlated with fractional anisotropy, a measure of structural integrity, in the internal capsule, fornix, pons, and corpus callosum. Brain concentrations of lactate, a neurochemical closely linked with astrocytes, were also weakly, but positively associated with tremors. These findings are the first documented results suggesting that chronic oral exposure to DA at concentrations near the current human regulatory limit are related to structural and chemical changes in the adult primate brain.

Keywords: Chronic exposure; Diffusion tensor imaging; Domoic acid; Fractional anisotropy; Magnetic resonance spectroscopy; Neurotoxicity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects*
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Kainic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Kainic Acid / analogs & derivatives*
  • Kainic Acid / toxicity
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Marine Toxins / administration & dosage
  • Marine Toxins / toxicity*
  • Neurotoxins / administration & dosage
  • Neurotoxins / toxicity*
  • Postpartum Period
  • Pregnancy
  • Tremor / chemically induced


  • Marine Toxins
  • Neurotoxins
  • domoic acid
  • Kainic Acid