Interaction between organophosphate compounds and cholinergic functions during development
Organophosphate (OP) compounds exert inhibition on cholinesterase (ChE) activity by irreversibly binding to the catalytic site of the enzymes. For this reason, they are employed as insecticides for agricultural, gardening and indoor pest control. The biological function of the ChE enzymes is well known and has been studied since the beginning of the XXth century; in particular, acetylcholinesterase (AChE, E.C. 188.8.131.52) is an enzyme playing a key role in the modulation of neuromuscular impulse transmission. However, in the past decades, there has been increasing interest concerning its role in regulating non-neuromuscular cell-to-cell interactions mediated by electrical events, such as intracellular ion concentration changes, as the ones occurring during gamete interaction and embryonic development. An understanding of the mechanisms of the cholinergic regulation of these events can help us foresee the possible impact on environmental and human health, including gamete efficiency and possible teratogenic effects on different models, and help elucidate the extent to which OP exposure may affect human health. The chosen organophosphates were the ones mainly used in Europe: diazinon, chlorpyriphos, malathion, and phentoate, all of them belonging to the thionophosphate chemical class. This research has focused on the comparison between the effects of exposure on the developing embryos at different stages, identifying biomarkers and determining potential risk factors for sensitive subpopulations. The effects of OP oxonisation were not taken into account at this level, because embryonic responses were directly correlated to the changes of AChE activity, as determined by histochemical localisation and biochemical measurements. The identified biomarkers of effect for in vitro experiments were: cell proliferation/apoptosis as well as cell differentiation. For in vivo experiments, the endpoints were: developmental speed, size and shape of pre-gastrula embryos; developmental anomalies on neural tube, head, eye, heart. In all these events, we had evidence that the effects are mediated by ion channel activation, through the activation/inactivation of acetylcholine receptors (AChRs).