Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Gene expression profiling in brain of mice exposed to the marine neurotoxin ciguatoxin reveals an acute anti-inflammatory, neuroprotective response

James C Ryan*, Jeanine S Morey, Marie-Yasmine Dechraoui Bottein, John S Ramsdell and Frances M Van Dolah

Author affiliations

Marine Biotoxins Program, NOAA Center for Coastal Environmental Health and Biomolecular Research, Charleston, SC, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

Citation and License

BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11:107  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-107

Published: 26 August 2010



Ciguatoxins (CTXs) are polyether marine neurotoxins and potent activators of voltage-gated sodium channels. This toxin is carried by multiple reef-fish species and human consumption of ciguatoxins can result in an explosive gastrointestinal/neurologic illness. This study characterizes the global transcriptional response in mouse brain to a symptomatic dose of the highly toxic Pacific ciguatoxin P-CTX-1 and additionally compares this data to transcriptional profiles from liver and whole blood examined previously. Adult male C57/BL6 mice were injected with 0.26 ng/g P-CTX-1 while controls received only vehicle. Animals were sacrificed at 1, 4 and 24 hrs and transcriptional profiling was performed on brain RNA with Agilent whole genome microarrays. RT-PCR was used to independently validate gene expression and the web tool DAVID was used to analyze gene ontology (GO) and molecular pathway enrichment of the gene expression data.


A pronounced 4°C hypothermic response was recorded in these mice, reaching a minimum at 1 hr and lasting for 8 hrs post toxin exposure. Ratio expression data were filtered by intensity, fold change and p-value, with the resulting data used for time course analysis, K-means clustering, ontology classification and KEGG pathway enrichment. Top GO hits for this gene set included acute phase response and mono-oxygenase activity. Molecular pathway analysis showed enrichment for complement/coagulation cascades and metabolism of xenobiotics. Many immediate early genes such as Fos, Jun and Early Growth Response isoforms were down-regulated although others associated with stress such as glucocorticoid responsive genes were up-regulated. Real time PCR confirmation was performed on 22 differentially expressed genes with a correlation of 0.9 (Spearman's Rho, p < 0.0001) with microarray results.


Many of the genes differentially expressed in this study, in parallel with the hypothermia, figure prominently in protection against neuroinflammation. Pathologic activity of the complement/coagulation cascade has been shown in patients suffering from a chronic form of ciguatera poisoning and is of particular interest in this model. Anti-inflammatory processes were at work not only in the brain but were also seen in whole blood and liver of these animals, creating a systemic anti-inflammatory environment to protect against the initial cellular damage caused by the toxin.