An in vitro model, the aggregating brain cell culture of fetal rat telencephalon, has been used to investigate the influence of glial cells on the neurotoxicity of two organophosphorus pesticides (OPs), chlorpyrifos and parathion. Mixed-cell aggregate cultures were treated continuously for 10 days between DIV 5 and 15. Parathion induced astrogliosis at concentration at which MAP-2 immunostaining, found here to be more sensitive than neuron-specific enzyme activities, was not affected. In contrast, chlorpyrifos induced a comparatively weak gliotic reaction, and only at concentrations at which neurons were already affected. After similar treatments, increased neurotoxicity of parathion and chlorpyrifos was found in aggregate cultures deprived of glial cells. These results suggest that glial cells provide neuroprotection against OPs toxicity. To address the question of the difference in toxicity between parathion and chlorpyrifos, the toxic effects of their leaving groups, p-nitrophenol and trichloropyridinol, were studied in mixed-cell aggregates. General cytotoxicity was more pronounced for trichloropyridinol and both compounds had similar toxic effects on neuron-specific enzyme activities. In contrast, trichloropyridinol induced a much stronger decrease in glutamine synthetase activity, the enzymatic marker of astrocytes. Trichloropyridinol may exert a toxic effect on astrocytes, compromising their neuroprotective function, thus exacerbating the neurotoxicity of chlorpyrifos. This is in line with the suggestion that glial cells may contribute to OPs neurotoxicity, and with the view that OPs may exert their neurotoxic effects through different mechanisms
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