Spatial learning impairment in prepubertal guinea pigs prenatally exposed to the organophosphorus pesticide chlorpyrifos: Toxicological implications

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Graphical abstract

Schematic diagram on the left illustrates the experimental design from the time of exposure of the pregnant guinea pigs to chlorpyrifos (CPF) or vehicle (peanut oil) to the time of testing. Table on the right shows the swim paths of two male offspring on the 1 st and 4th trials of the first and last day of training to find the hidden platform in the Morris water maze. The swim path of the male guinea pig prenatally exposed to peanut oil becomes shorter with training as the animal learns to use the contextual cues to find the platform. In contrast, the swim path of the male prenatally exposed to CPF does not improve substantially with training.

Exposure of the developing brain to chlorpyrifos (CPF), an organophosphorus (OP) pesticide used extensively in agriculture worldwide, has been associated with increased prevalence of cognitive deficits in children, particularly boys. The present study was designed to test the hypothesis that cognitive deficits induced by prenatal exposure to sub-acute doses of CPF can be reproduced in precocial small species. To address this hypothesis, pregnant guinea pigs were injected daily with CPF (25 mg/kg, s.c.) or vehicle (peanut oil) for 10 days starting on presumed gestation day (GD) 53–55. Offspring were born around GD 65, weaned on postnatal day (PND) 20, and subjected to behavioral tests starting around PND 30. On the day of birth, butyrylcholinesterase (BuChE), an OP bioscavenger used as a biomarker of OP exposures, and acetylcholinesterase (AChE), a major molecular target of OP compounds, were significantly inhibited in the blood of CPF-exposed offspring. In their brains, BuChE, but not AChE, was significantly inhibited. Prenatal CPF exposure had no significant effect on locomotor activity or on locomotor habituation, a form of non-associative memory assessed in open fields. Spatial navigation in the Morris water maze (MWM) was found to be sexually dimorphic among guinea pigs, with males outperforming females. Prenatal CPF exposure impaired spatial learning more significantly among male than female guinea pigs and, consequently, reduced the sexual dimorphism of the task. The results presented here, which strongly support the test hypothesis, reveal that the guinea pig is a valuable animal model for preclinical assessment of the developmental neurotoxicity of OP pesticides. These findings are far reaching as they lay the groundwork for future studies aimed at identifying therapeutic interventions to treat and/or prevent the neurotoxic effects of CPF in the developing brain.

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