Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Pharmacology & Toxicology

First Advisor

Dr. Robert DeLorenzo

Second Advisor

Dr. Laxmikant Deshpande


Organophosphates (OPs) are a major class of pesticides and nerve agents that elicit acute toxicity by inhibiting acetylcholinesterase (AChE), the enzyme responsible for the degradation of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine in the central and peripheral nervous systems. Acetylcholine accumulation following extensive AChE inhibition leads to an acute cholinergic syndrome characterized by autonomic dysfunction, involuntary movements, muscle fasciculations, respiratory distress, and seizures. Despite their classification as moderate to highly toxic, OP pesticides are the most widely used class of insecticides in the U.S., and are even more commonly used worldwide. Additionally, there is a growing concern that OP nerve agents could be used to cause mass civilian casualties. It is well known that the survivors of acute nerve gas poisoning and chronic OP pesticide exposure exhibit neurobehavioral deficits including mood changes, depression, and memory impairments. Despite this, there are very few treatments available for OP-intoxication survivors and this topic is under-researched. In this study we investigated whether animals surviving a single severe OP exposure exhibited long-term neurological impairments, using two OP agents: paraoxon (POX) and diisopropyl fluorophosphates (DFP), as well as a non-OP chemoconvulsant, pilocarpine (Pilo), which acts as a muscarinic agonist. Exposure to POX, DFP, or Pilo led to overt signs of cholinergic toxicity. POX and DFP rats were rescued with an optimized atropine, 2-PAM, and diazepam therapy per current OP-exposure treatment guidelines, while Pilo rats were given only diazepam. Saline was administered to control rats at all pharmacological timepoints. Surviving rats were studied using established behavioral assays for identifying symptoms of depression and memory impairment 3-6 months after exposure to toxic agents. In the forced swim test, POX, DFP, and Pilo animals exhibited increased immobility time indicative of a despair-like state. In the sucrose preference test, POX, DFP, and Pilo rats did not display a preference for sucrose water, indicating an anhedonia-like condition. POX, DFP, and Pilo rats also displayed increased anxiety as characterized by significantly lower performance in the open arm of the elevated plus maze. Furthermore, when tested with a novel object recognition paradigm, POX, DFP, and Pilo rats exhibited a significantly lower discrimination ratio, indicating impaired recognition memory. The results indicate that these models of survival from severe POX and DFP exposure can be employed to study chronic behavioral and cognitive comorbidities and to further investigate the molecular bases for these comorbidities, potentially leading to the development of pharmacological therapies.


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