Organophosphate (OP)-based pesticides have been used extensively for decades and as a result they have become almost ubiquitous in our environment. There is clinical and animal evidence to suggest that chronic exposures to OPs can lead to cognitive dysfunction and other neurological abnormalities, although the mechanism for these effects is unknown. We previously reported that repeated, subthreshold exposures (defined as doses not associated with signs of acute toxicity) to the commonly used OP chlorpyrifos (CPF) resulted in protracted impairments in the performance of attention and memory-related tasks in rodents as well as deficits in axonal transport ex-vivo (in the sciatic nerve). Here we investigated the effects of CPF and its active metabolite CPF oxon (CPO) on the dynamics and movement of mitochondria in rat primary cortical neurons using time-lapse imaging techniques. Exposure to CPF (1.0-20.0 µM) or CPO (5.0 nM-20.0 µM) for 1 or 24 hours resulted in a concentration-dependent increase in mitochondrial length, a decrease in mitochondrial number (indicative of increased fusion events), and a decrease in their movement in axons. The changes occurred at concentrations of CPF and CPO that did not inhibit acetylcholinesterase activity (the commonly cited mechanism of acute OP toxicity) and they were not blocked by cholinergic receptor antagonists. Further, the changes did not appear to be associated with direct (OP-related) effects on mitochondrial viability or function (i.e., mitochondrial membrane potential or ATP production). The results suggest that an underlying mechanism of organophosphate-based deficits in cognitive function might involve alterations in mitochondrial dynamics and/or their transport in axons.
- Received June 3, 2011.
- Revision received July 22, 2011.
- Accepted July 26, 2011.
- The American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics