Zhang, J., Peterson, S.M., Weber, G.J., Zhu, X., Zheng, W., and Freeman, J.L. (2011) Decreased axonal density and altered expression profiles of axonal guidance genes underlying lead (Pb) neurodevelopmental toxicity at early embryonic stages in the zebrafish. Neurotoxicol. Teratol.. 33(6):715-20.
Previous studies have reported that environmental lead (Pb) exposure can result in neurological alterations in children leading to reduced IQ, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and diminished reading and learning abilities. However, the specific alterations in neurodevelopmental morphology and the underlying genetic mechanisms of these alterations have not yet been thoroughly defined. To investigate alterations in neurologic morphology and test the hypothesis that developmental Pb neurotoxicity is partially mediated through alterations in neuronal growth and transport function of axons, the changes of specific axon tracts in the embryonic zebrafish brain were observed with anti-acetylated α-tubulin staining at several developmental time points through 36 hours post fertilization (hpf). In addition, the role of a subset of axonogenesis-related genes including shha, epha4b, netrin1b, netrin2, and noiwas investigated with real-time quantitative PCR (qPCR). Pb treatment resulted in decreased axonal density at 18, 20, and 24 hpf for specific axon tracts in the midbrain and forebrain. These observations corresponded to an observed down-regulation of shha and epha4b at 14 and 16 hpf, respectively. The axonal density in Pb exposed individuals at later stages (30 and 36 hpf) was not significantly different from controls. An overexpression of netrin2 at these two developmental stages suggests a novel role for this gene in regulating axonal density specific to Pb neurotoxicity. Although no significant differences in axonal density was observed in the two later developmental stages, further studies are needed to determine if the morphologic alterations observed at the earlier stages will have lasting functional impacts.