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Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) Produces Dopaminergic Neuropathology in Caenorhabditis elegans

Sammi SR, Foguth RM, Nieves CS, De Perre C, Wipf P, McMurray CT, Lee LS, Cannon JR (2019) Toxicol Sci.  2019 Dec;172(2): 417-434. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfz191. 

Web URL: Read this and related abstracts on PubMed here


Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) has been widely utilized in numerous industries. Due to long environmental and biological half-lives, PFOS is a major public health concern. Although the literature suggests that PFOS may induce neurotoxicity, neurotoxic mechanisms, and neuropathology are poorly understood. Thus, the primary goal of this study was to determine if PFOS is selectively neurotoxic and potentially relevant to specific neurological diseases.

Nematodes (
Caenorhabditis elegans) were exposed to PFOS or related per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) for 72 h and tested for evidence of neuropathology through examination of cholinergic, dopaminergic, gamma-amino butyric acid (GABA)ergic, and serotoninergic neuronal morphologies. Dopaminergic and cholinergic functional analyses were assessed through 1-nonanol and Aldicarb assay. Mechanistic studies assessed total reactive oxygen species, superoxide ions, and mitochondrial content. Finally, therapeutic approaches were utilized to further examine pathogenic mechanisms.

Dopaminergic neuropathology occurred at lower exposure levels (25 ppm, approximately 50 µM) than required to produce neuropathology in GABAergic, serotonergic, and cholinergic neurons (100 ppm, approximately 200 µM). Further, PFOS exposure led to dopamine-dependent functional deficits, without altering acetylcholine-dependent paralysis. Mitochondrial content was affected by PFOS at far lower exposure level than required to induce pathology (≥1 ppm, approximately 2 µM). Perfluorooctane sulfonate exposure also enhanced oxidative stress. Further, mutation in mitochondrial superoxide dismutase rendered animals more vulnerable.

Neuroprotective approaches such as antioxidants, PFAS-protein dissociation, and targeted (mitochondrial) radical and electron scavenging were neuroprotective, suggesting specific mechanisms of action. In general, other tested PFAS were less neurotoxic. The primary impact is to prompt research into potential adverse outcomes related to PFAS-induced 
dopaminergic neurotoxicity in humans.


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