Acetylcholinesterase inhibition in the basolateral amygdala plays a key role in the induction of status epilepticus after soman exposure

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Exposure to nerve agents induces intense seizures (status epilepticus, SE), which cause brain damage or death. Identification of the brain regions that are critical for seizure initiation after nerve agent exposure, along with knowledge of the physiology of these regions, can facilitate the development of pretreatments and treatments that will successfully prevent or limit the development of seizures and brain damage. It is well-established that seizure initiation is due to excessive cholinergic activity triggered by the nerve agent-induced irreversible inhibition of acetylcholinesterase (AChE). Therefore, the reason that when animals are exposed to lethal doses of a nerve agent, a small proportion of these animals do not develop seizures, may have to do with failure of the nerve agent to inhibit AChE in brain areas that play a key role in seizure initiation and propagation. In the present study, we compared AChE activity in the basolateral amygdala (BLA), hippocampus, and piriform cortex of rats that developed SE (SE rats) after administration of the nerve agent soman (154 μg/kg) to AChE activity in these brain regions of rats that received the same dose of soman but did not develop SE (no-SE rats). The levels of AChE activity were measured at the onset of SE in SE rats, 30 min after soman administration in no-SE rats, as well as in controls which received saline in place of soman. In the control group, AChE activity was significantly higher in the BLA compared to the hippocampus and piriform cortex. Compared to controls, AChE activity was dramatically lower in the hippocampus and the piriform cortex of both the SE rats and the no-SE rats, but AChE activity in the BLA was reduced only in the SE rats. Consistent with the notion that soman-induced neuropathology is due to intense seizures, rather than due to a direct neurotoxic effect of soman, no-SE rats did not present any neuronal loss or degeneration, 7 days after exposure. The results suggest that inhibition of AChE activity in the BLA is necessary for the generation of seizures after nerve agent exposure, and provide strong support to the view that the amygdala is a key brain region for the induction of seizures by nerve agents.

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