Targeting Intracellular Calcium Stores Alleviates Neurological Morbidities in a DFP-Based Rat Model of Gulf War Illness

Toxicol Sci. 2019 Jun 1;169(2):567-578. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfz070.


Gulf War Illness (GWI) is a chronic multi-symptom disorder afflicting the veterans of the First Gulf War, and includes neurological symptoms characterized by depression and memory deficits. Chronic exposure to organophosphates (OPs) is considered a leading cause for GWI, yet its pathobiology is not fully understood. We recently observed chronic elevations in neuronal Ca2+ levels ([Ca2+]i) in an OP-diisopropyl fluorophosphate (DFP)-based rat model for GWI. This study was aimed at identifying mechanisms underlying elevated [Ca2+]i in this DFP model and investigating whether their therapeutic targeting could improve GWI-like neurological morbidities. Male Sprague-Dawley rats (9 weeks) were exposed to DFP (0.5 mg/kg, s.c., 1×-daily for 5 days) and at 3 months postDFP exposure, behavior was assessed and rats were euthanized for protein estimations and ratiometric Fura-2 [Ca2+]i estimations in acutely dissociated hippocampal neurons. In DFP rats, a sustained elevation in intracellular Ca2+ levels occurred, and pharmacological blockade of Ca2+-induced Ca2+-release mechanisms significantly lowered elevated [Ca2+]i in DFP neurons. Significant reductions in the protein levels of the ryanodine receptor (RyR) stabilizing protein Calstabin2 were also noted. Such a posttranslational modification would render RyR "leaky" resulting in sustained DFP [Ca2+]i elevations. Antagonism of RyR with levetiracetam significantly lower elevated [Ca2+]i in DFP neurons and improved GWI-like behavioral symptoms. Since Ca2+ is a major second messenger molecule, such chronic increases in its levels could underlie pathological synaptic plasticity that expresses itself as GWI morbidities. Our studies show that treatment with drugs targeted at blocking intracellular Ca2+ release could be effective therapies for GWI neurological morbidities.

Keywords: DFP; Sprague-Dawley rats; anxiety; calcium dynamics; depression; levetiracetam; memory deficits; organophosphates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium / metabolism*
  • Disease Models, Animal*
  • Hippocampus / drug effects
  • Hippocampus / metabolism
  • Isoflurophate / toxicity*
  • Levetiracetam / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Maze Learning / drug effects
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / drug therapy*
  • Persian Gulf Syndrome / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley


  • Isoflurophate
  • Levetiracetam
  • Calcium