Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood and previous studies indicate the dopamine system plays a major role in ADHD pathogenesis. Two environmental exposures independently associated with dopaminergic dysfunction and ADHD risk include exposure to deltamethrin, a pyrethroid insecticide, and chronic stress. We hypothesized that combined neurodevelopmental exposure to both deltamethrin and corticosterone (CORT), the major stress hormone in rodents, would result in additive changes within the dopamine system. To study this, we developed a novel dual exposure paradigm and exposed pregnant C57BL/6 dams to 3 mg/kg deltamethrin through gestation and weaning, and their offspring to 25 μg/mL CORT dissolved in the drinking water through adulthood. Midbrain RNA expression as well as striatal and cortical protein expression of key dopaminergic components were investigated, in addition to ADHD-like behavioral tasks and electrochemical dopamine dynamics via fast-scan cyclic voltammetry. Given the well-described sexual dimorphism of ADHD, males and females were assessed separately. Males exposed to deltamethrin had significantly decreased midbrain Pitx3
expression, decreased cortical tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) expression, increased activity in the Y maze, and increased dopamine uptake rate in the dorsal striatum. These effects did not occur in males exposed to CORT only, or in males exposed to both deltamethrin and CORT, suggesting that CORT may attenuate these effects. Additionally, deltamethrin- and CORT-exposed females did not display these dopaminergic features, which indicates these changes are sex-specific. Our results show dopaminergic changes from the RNA through the functional level. Moreover, these data illustrate the importance of testing multiple environmental exposures together to better understand how combined exposures that occur in certain vulnerable populations could affect similar neurodevelopmental systems, as well as the importance of studying sex differences of these alterations.
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