Functional consequences of repeated organophosphate exposure: Potential non-cholinergic mechanisms

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182 Scopus citations


The class of chemicals known as the "organophosphates" (OPs) comprises many of the most common agricultural and commercial pesticides that are used worldwide as well as the highly toxic chemical warfare agents. The mechanism of the acute toxicity of OPs in both target and non-target organisms is primarily attributed to inhibitory actions on various forms of cholinesterase leading to excessive peripheral and central cholinergic activity. However, there is now substantial evidence that this canonical (cholinesterase-based) mechanism cannot alone account for the wide-variety of adverse consequences of OP exposure that have been described, especially those associated with repeated exposures to levels that produce no overt signs of acute toxicity. This type of exposure has been associated with prolonged impairments in attention, memory, and other domains of cognition, as well as chronic illnesses where these symptoms are manifested (e.g., Gulf War Illness, Alzheimer's disease). Due to their highly reactive nature, it is not surprising that OPs might alter the function of a number of enzymes and proteins (in addition to cholinesterase). However, the wide variety of long-term neuropsychiatric symptoms that have been associated with OPs suggests that some basic or fundamental neuronal process was adversely affected during the exposure period. The purpose of this review is to discuss several non-cholinesterase targets of OPs that might affect such fundamental processes and includes cytoskeletal and motor proteins involved in axonal transport, neurotrophins and their receptors, and mitochondria (especially their morphology and movement in axons). Potential therapeutic implications of these OP interactions are also discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)355-365
Number of pages11
JournalPharmacology and Therapeutics
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 2012


  • Cholinesterase inhibitor
  • Chronic
  • Cognition
  • Memory
  • Pesticide

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Pharmacology (medical)


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