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Modulation of Dopaminergic System Ontogeny by Low-Level Lead Exposure: A Potential Underlying Mechanism for the Onset of Drug Sensitization

Soares, Barbara Domingos

Lead (Pb²⁺) is an environmental toxin that is known to cause lasting cognitive deficits following early life exposure. Previously, our laboratory demonstrated increased sensitivity to the psychostimulant effects of cocaine in animals with elevated blood Pb²⁺ levels (BLL). This effect was abolished following introduction of dopamine (DA) receptor antagonists, indicating that the dopaminergic (DAergic) system may be a target of Pb²⁺’s toxic effects. However, the biological mechanisms through which Pb²⁺ increased sensitization to cocaine’s psychostimulant effects have not been fully elucidated. There is some disagreement regarding the magnitude and direction of Pb²⁺’s effects on the DAergic system. Furthermore, many studies to date have measured the effects of Pb²⁺ in only one sex (usually male), one exposure, and one or two time-points, making it difficult to determine any potential sex-, age-, and exposure-dependent effects.
In the present study, we used a well-validated animal model and Pb²⁺ exposure paradigm that uses chronic dietary exposure to 180ppm and 1500ppm Pb²⁺ acetate (PbAC) in the diet. These levels of Pb²+ in the diet resulted in low and moderate levels of BLLs that on average approximated 4.5 and 22.0µg/dl in young adult rats. These levels of Pb²⁺ exposure are relevant to contemporary levels of BLL in intoxicated children in many cities in the United States and in many parts of the world where Pb²⁺ exposure continues to be a major public health concern. It should be noted that at the low level of Pb²⁺ exposure, the resulting BLL of 4.5µg/dl is just below the current CDC level of action.
Using this well-defined rat model of chronic Pb²⁺ exposure, in Aim 1, we measured DA concentration and turnover in the dorsal striatum (STR) of juvenile (PN14), adolescent (PN28), and young adult (PN50) male and female rats. Tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) protein, the rate-limiting step in the synthesis of DA, and phosphorylation of TH at serine 40 (pser40TH) were assessed as an indirect measure of TH activity. Thus, we measured the ratio of pser40TH to total TH protein. We also measured vesicular monoamine transporter-type 2 (VMAT2) levels in the STR, nucleus accumbens (NAC), and olfactory tubercle (OT) since this protein is critical for the sequestration of DA in presynaptic vesicles and has been used as a biomarker for DA terminal integrity. In Aim 2, we examine the effect of chronic Pb²⁺ exposure on D1 and D2 dopamine receptor (D1R and D2R) in the OT, NAC, and STR. Analysis of D1R and D2R is important since the downstream effects of DA are dependent on the DA receptor subtype it activates.
In Aim 1, we observed significant increases in DA and its metabolites homovanillic acid (HVA) and 3,4-Dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC) in the STR of adolescent and young adult male rats with BLL as low as 4.5µg/dl in the absence of phosphorylation at the serine 40 residue of TH or altered VMAT2 levels. In Aim 2, a significant increase in D2R was detected in the juvenile male rat STR. We also observed increases in D1R expression in adolescent male rats in the NAC, OT, STR, and in the OT of adolescent female rats. Together, these results demonstrate that chronic Pb²⁺ exposure alters DA receptor levels in a manner characteristic of a hyperactive DAergic state. The observations presented in this work suggest that a hyperactive DAergic system underlies the heightened sensitization to cocaine we previously observed in Pb²⁺-exposed animals. This work builds upon the current understanding of how Pb²⁺ modulates the DAergic system and provides some elucidation of the mechanisms underlying increased drug sensitization our laboratory has previously observed in rats exposed to Pb²⁺.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Environmental Health Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Graziano, Joseph
Guilarte, Tomas R.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 6, 2016