Motor impairment in rats exposed to PCBs and methylmercury during early development

Cindy S. Roegge, Victor C. Wang, Brian E. Powers, Anna Y. Klintsova, Sherilyn Villareal, William T. Greenough, Susan L. Schantz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Epidemiological and laboratory studies indicate that polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and methyl mercury (MeHg) may have additive or interactive adverse effects on nervous system function. Prior studies have shown that high doses of MeHg target the cerebellum and impair balance and coordination, but the effects of PCBs on cerebellar function were unknown. In addition, the combined effects of PCBs and MeHg on cerebellar function have not been studied previously. Therefore, we investigated the effects of developmental exposure to PCBs, MeHg, or PCBs + MeHg on three motor tasks that involve cerebellar functions. Female Long-Evans rats were exposed to MeHg (0.5 ppm in drinking water), PCBs (6-mg/kg/d Aroclor 1254), PCBs + MeHg, or vehicle only beginning 4 weeks prior to breeding, through pregnancy, and continuing through postnatal day (PND) 16. Starting at approximately PND 60, one male and one female from each litter were tested on three motor tasks that involve cerebellar function. PCB + MeHg-exposed rats were impaired relative to the controls on a task requiring them to traverse a rotating rod. Rats exposed to PCBs alone were also somewhat impaired relative to the controls, whereas MeHg-exposed rats were not significantly different from the controls. There were no statistically significant deficits related to PCB or MeHg exposure on a vertical rope-climbing test or a parallel bar test. Our results demonstrate that the possibility of additive neurotoxic effects of PCBs and MeHg needs to be seriously considered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-324
Number of pages10
JournalToxicological Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2004


  • Cerebellum
  • Methylmercury
  • Motor learning
  • Parallel bars
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs)
  • Rats
  • Rope climb
  • Rotating rod

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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