Open Access Research article

Effect of a short-term in vitro exposure to the marine toxin domoic acid on viability, tumor necrosis factor-alpha, matrix metalloproteinase-9 and superoxide anion release by rat neonatal microglia

Alejandro MS Mayer1*, Mary Hall1, Michael J Fay1, Peter Lamar1, Celeste Pearson1, Walter C Prozialeck1, Virginia KB Lehmann2, Peer B Jacobson3, Anne M Romanic4, Tolga Uz5 and Hari Manev6

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Pharmacology, Chicago College of Osteopathic Medicine, Midwestern University, 555 31st Street, Downers Grove, Illinois 60515, USA

2 School of Chemical Sciences, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Urbana, Illinois 61801, USA

3 Abbott Laboratories, Abbott Park, Illinois 60064, USA

4 GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, Department of Cardiovascular Pharmacology, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania 19406, USA

5 The Psychiatric Institute, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60612, USA

6 The Psychiatric Institute, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, Illinois 60612, USA

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BMC Pharmacology 2001, 1:7  doi:10.1186/1471-2210-1-7

Published: 2 October 2001



The excitatory amino acid domoic acid, a glutamate and kainic acid analog, is the causative agent of amnesic shellfish poisoning in humans. No studies to our knowledge have investigated the potential contribution to short-term neurotoxicity of the brain microglia, a cell type that constitutes circa 10% of the total glial population in the brain. We tested the hypothesis that a short-term in vitro exposure to domoic acid, might lead to the activation of rat neonatal microglia and the concomitant release of the putative neurotoxic mediators tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α), matrix metalloproteinases-2 and-9 (MMP-2 and -9) and superoxide anion (O2-).


In vitro, domoic acid [10 μM-1 mM] was significantly neurotoxic to primary cerebellar granule neurons. Although neonatal rat microglia expressed ionotropic glutamate GluR4 receptors, exposure during 6 hours to domoic acid [10 μM-1 mM] had no significant effect on viability. By four hours, LPS (10 ng/mL) stimulated an increase in TNF-α mRNA and a 2,233 % increase in TNF-α protein In contrast, domoic acid (1 mM) induced a slight rise in TNF-α expression and a 53 % increase (p < 0.01) of immunoreactive TNF-α protein. Furthermore, though less potent than LPS, a 4-hour treatment with domoic acid (1 mM) yielded a 757% (p < 0.01) increase in MMP-9 release, but had no effect on MMP-2. Finally, while PMA (phorbol 12-myristate 13-acetate) stimulated O2- generation was elevated in 6 hour LPS-primed microglia, a similar pretreatment with domoic acid (1 mM) did not prime O2- release.


To our knowledge this is the first experimental evidence that domoic acid, at in vitro concentrations that are toxic to neuronal cells, can trigger a release of statistically significant amounts of TNF-α and MMP-9 by brain microglia. These observations are of considerable pathophysiological significance because domoic acid activates rat microglia several days after in vivo administration.