Sustained Exposure to the Widely Used Herbicide Atrazine: Altered Function and Loss of Neurons in Brain Monoamine Systems


Veronica M. Rodriguez, Mona Thiruchelvam, and Deborah A. Cory-Slechta

Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, and Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Piscataway, New Jersey, USA


The widespread use of atrazine (ATR) and its persistence in the environment have resulted in documented human exposure. Alterations in hypothalamic catecholamines have been suggested as the mechanistic basis of the toxicity of ATR to hormonal systems in females and the reproductive tract in males. Because multiple catecholamine systems are present in the brain, however, ATR could have far broader effects than are currently understood. Catecholaminergic systems such as the two major long-length dopaminergic tracts of the central nervous system play key roles in mediating a wide array of critical behavioral functions. In this study we examined the hypothesis that ATR would adversely affect these brain dopaminergic systems. Male rats chronically exposed to 5 or 10 mg/kg ATR in the diet for 6 months exhibited persistent hyperactivity and altered behavioral responsivity to amphetamine. Moreover, when measured 2 weeks after the end of exposure, the levels of various monoamines and the numbers of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive (TH+) and -negative (TH-) cells measured using unbiased stereology were reduced in both dopaminergic tracts. Acute exposures to 100 or 200 mg/kg ATR given intraperitoneally to evaluate potential mechanisms reduced both basal and potassium-evoked striatal dopamine release. Collectively, these studies demonstrate that ATR can produce neurotoxicity in dopaminergic systems that are critical to the mediation of movement as well as cognition and executive function. Therefore, ATR may be an environmental risk factor contributing to dopaminergic system disorders, underscoring the need for further investigation of its mechanism(s) of action and corresponding assessment of its associated human health risks. Key words: atrazine, dopamine, hypothalamus, locomotor activity, microdialysis, prefrontal cortex, striatum, substantia nigra, unbiased stereology.

Environ Health Perspect 113:708-715 (2005). doi:10.1289/ehp.7783 available via [Online 24 February 2005]