Learning deficits in C57BL/6J mice following perinatal arsenic exposure: consequence of lower corticosterone receptor levels?
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Most studies on arsenic as a drinking water contaminant have focused on its carcinogenic potential but a few suggest that arsenic can adversely affect cognitive development. One parameter of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis, the corticosterone receptor (CR) has been shown to be altered by arsenic. These receptors are found throughout the central nervous system, particularly in the hippocampus, an area of the brain of central importance for learning and memory. We examined the impact of perinatal exposure to 50 parts per billion (ppb) sodium arsenate on CRs and learning and memory behavior in the C57BL/6J mouse. Measurements of CRs revealed that arsenic-exposed offspring have significantly lower levels of these receptors in the nucleus than controls. Exposed offspring showed longer latency to approach a novel object than controls in an object recognition task. In the 8-way radial arm maze, arsenic offspring had a significant increase in the number of entry errors compared to controls. Results suggest that moderate exposures to perinatal arsenic can significantly reduce CR levels in the hippocampus and can have adverse effects on learning and memory behavior.