Neurotoxic effects of malathion and lead acetate on the blood-brain barrier: Disruptive effects caused by different mechanisms examined with an in vitro blood-brain barrier system

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Virginia Tech


Organophosphates (OP) such as malathion are organic derivatives of phosphoric acid with broad use in everyday life throughout the world, especially as insecticides. Lead particles can accumulate in soil and from there leach into our water supplies.

Interaction with the environment offers opportunities for multiple exposures to combinations of different toxicants (such as lead and malathion). Thus, it is important to assess effects that these compounds exert not only on the nervous system, but also on the blood-brain barrier (BBB). The BBB consists of specialized endothelial cells that form the vasculature of the brain; it regulates passage of nutrients, while preventing potentially damaging substances from entering the brain. The main feature of the BBB is the presence of tight junctions between cells, which provide the BBB with its low permeability.

The work presented in this dissertation tests the hypothesis that lead and malathion disrupt BBB integrity by affecting tight junctions of the BBB. The hypothesis suggests that disruptions involve changes in protein levels and gene expression as well as activation of transient receptor potential canonical channels (TRPC) that in turn increase intracellular calcium levels affecting tight junction structure. The hypothesis was tested by assessing lead-malathion interactions in an in vitro BBB model. This model was constructed with rat astrocytes and rat brain endothelial cells (RBE4).

Assessments of cell toxicity in response to different concentrations of the neurotoxicants tested showed that concentrations between 10-5 µM and 10-6 µM were ideal to assess combinations of neurotoxicants. In general, protein levels of occludin, claudin 5, ZO1, and ZO2 decreased at all times, however, qPCR analysis of gene expression for all the proteins did not correlate with the assessments on protein levels. TRPC channel protein levels increased in response to neurotoxicant insult, which correlated with results for gene expression.

This study suggests that at least one of the mechanisms that neurotoxicants lead and malathion utilize to disrupt permeability of the BBB is by affecting tight junction structure. This effect could be regulated by increases in gene expression of TRPC1 and TRPC4 that are associated with increases in the number of TRPC channels on the membrane of endothelial cells of the cerebral microvasculature.



blood-brain barrier, Malaoxon, Malathion, Lead acetate, neurotoxicity