Pfiesteria toxin and learning performance.
Pfiesteria piscicida is an estuarine dinoflagellate involved with fish kills along the east coast of the United States. We previously documented a radial-arm maze learning deficit in rats exposed to Pfiesteria that may be related to cognitive deficits seen in humans after accidental Pfiesteria exposure. The current study elucidated important behavioral parameters of this deficit. There were six dose groups. Forty (10/group) adult female Sprague-Dawley rats were injected (s.c.) with a single dose of Pfiesteria taken from aquarium-cultured Pfiesteria (35,600, 106,800, or 320,400 Pfiesteria cells/kg of rat body weight or a cell-free filtrate of the 106,800 cells/kg dose). One control group (N = 10) was injected with saline and one (N = 10) with aquarium water not containing Pfiesteria. Half of the rats in each group were tested on an 8-arm radial maze in a standard test room, and the other half were tested on the radial maze in a sound-attenuating chamber. In the standard maze room, there was a significant effect of Pfiesteria (p < 0.05) impairing choice accuracy improvement over the first six sessions of training among rats administered 106,800, 320,400, and the 106,800 cells/kg filtered sample. In contrast, there was no indication of an effect of Pfiesteria when the rats were tested on the same configuration radial maze in the sound-attenuating chamber. After 18 sessions of training in one room, the rats were switched for six sessions of testing in the other room and finally were switched back to their original room for three sessions. There was a significant Pfiesteria-induced deficit when the rats were tested in the standard test room but not when they were tested in the sound-attenuating chamber. When the Pfiesteria-exposed rats were initially switched from the sound-attenuating chamber to the standard test room they performed significantly worse than controls, whereas Pfiesteria-treated rats switched from the standard test room to the sound-attenuating chamber did not perform differently from controls. These results suggest that the Pfiesteria-induced learning impairment may result from the negative impact of distracting stimuli. At the time of the learning impairment, no overt Pfiesteria-related effects were seen using a functional observational battery and no overall response latency effects were seen, indicating that the Pfiesteria-induced choice accuracy deficit was not due to generalized debilitation. In the initial use of the figure-8 maze in this line of research, the rats in the same Pfiesteria treatment groups that showed significant deficits in the radial-arm maze showed greater declines in activity rates in a 1-h figure-8 locomotor activity test. Both the 106,800 and 320,400 Pfiesteria cells/kg groups showed significantly greater linear trends of activity decline relative to tank water-treated controls. This reflected an initial slight hyperactivity in the Pfiesteria-treated animals followed by a decrease to control levels. Pfiesteria effects in the figure-8 maze and in early radial-arm maze training may be useful in a rapid screen for identifying the critical toxin(s) of Pfiesteria in future studies.
Levin, ED; Simon, BB; Schmechel, DE; Glasgow, HB; Deamer-Melia, NJ; Burkholder, JM; Moser, VC; Jensen, K; Harry, GJ
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