Histological and neurochemical effects of fetal treatment with methylazoxymethanol on rat neocortex in adulthood

Michael V. Johnston, Joseph T. Coyle

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

165 Scopus citations


Forebrain microencephaly results when developing rats are exposed to methylazoxymethanol acetate (MAM) at 15 days of gestation (DG). This potent alkylating agent is selectively cytotoxic for dividing cells. Since distinct neuronal populations in neocortex vary greatly with respect to timing of mitotic activity during gestation, it was predicted that some groups would be differentially reduced by treatment. Histological examination of neocortex from treated rats grown to adulthood revealed major losses of laminae II-IV with relative preservation of deeper layers. The atrophic adult neocortex was further characterized by assay of several defined pre- and postsynaptic neurochemical markers. Total markers for GABAergic neurons were greatly reduced (glutamate decarboxylase -71%, [3H]GABA synaptosomal uptake -63% and endogenous GABA -59%). Total [3H]GABA binding to cortical membranes was reduced 67%. Total [3H]glutamate synaptosomal uptake and endogenous glutamate were reduced 71% and 65% respectively. In contrast, total presynaptic markers for noradrenergic innervation were minimally altered but concentration of tyrosine hydroxylase, [3H]norepinephrine synaptosomal uptake and endogenous norepinephrine were increased by 275%, 130% and 133%, respectively. Concentration of cholinergic presynaptic markers was also increased (choline acetyltransferase +97%, endogenous acetylcholine +64%) in atrophic cortex, but to a lesser degree than for noradrenergic innervation. Specific binding of muscarinic cholinergic antagonist [3H]quinuclidinyl benzilate and the β-adrenergic receptor antagonist [3H]dihydroalprenolol was reduced 25% and 29% respectively in treated cortex. Thus, MAM treatment at 15 DG severely reduces intrinsic neuronal populations including GABAergic and glutamatergic neurons, and produces a shrunken cortex relatively hyperinnervated by noradrenergic and cholinergic neurons. MAM-induced micro-encephaly is a useful model system for producing relatively selective lesions of telencephalic neurons and for study of altered neurochemical relationships following developmentally incurred brain damage.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-155
Number of pages21
JournalBrain research
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 6 1979

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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