Repeated gestational exposure to diesel engine exhaust affects the fetal olfactory system and alters olfactory-based behavior in rabbit offspring

Estefanía Bernal-Meléndez, Marie-Christine Lacroix, Pascaline Bouillaud, Jacques Callebert, Benoit Olivier, Marie-Annick Persuy, Didier Durieux, Delphine Rousseau-Ralliard, Josiane Aioun, Flemming Cassee, Anne Couturier-Tarrade, Sarah Valentino, Pascale Chavatte-Palmer, Henri Schroeder, Christine Baly

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


    BACKGROUND: Airborne pollution, especially from diesel exhaust (DE), is known to have a negative effect on the central nervous system in exposed human populations. However, the consequences of gestational exposure to DE on the fetal brain remain poorly explored, with various effects depending on the conditions of exposure, as well as little information on early developmental stages. We investigated the short-term effects of indirect DE exposure throughout gestation on the developing brain using a rabbit model. We analyzed fetal olfactory tissues at the end of gestation and tested behaviors relevant to pups' survival at birth. Pregnant dams were exposed by nose-only inhalation to either clean air or DE with a content of particles (DEP) adjusted to 1 mg/m(3) by diluting engine exhaust, for 2 h/day, 5 days/week, from gestational day 3 (GD3) to day 27 (GD27). At GD28, fetal olfactory mucosa, olfactory bulbs and whole brains were collected for anatomical and neurochemical measurements. At postnatal day 2 (PND2), pups born from another group of exposed or control female were examined for their odor-guided behavior in response to the presentation of the rabbit mammary pheromone 2-methyl-3-butyn-2-ol (2MB2). RESULTS: At GD28, nano-sized particles were observed in cilia and cytoplasm of the olfactory sensory neurons in the olfactory mucosa and in the cytoplasm of periglomerular cells in the olfactory bulbs of exposed fetuses. Moreover, cellular and axonal hypertrophies were observed throughout olfactory tissues. Concomitantly, fetal serotoninergic and dopaminergic systems were affected in the olfactory bulbs. Moreover, the neuromodulatory homeostasis was disturbed in a sex-dependent manner in olfactory tissues. At birth, the olfactory sensitivity to 2MB2 was reduced in exposed PND2 pups. CONCLUSION: Gestational exposure to DE alters olfactory tissues and affects monoaminergic neurotransmission in fetuses' olfactory bulbs, resulting in an alteration of olfactory-based behaviors at birth. Considering the anatomical and functional continuum between the olfactory system and other brain structures, and due to the importance of monoamine neurotransmission in the plasticity of neural circuits, such alterations could participate to disturbances in higher integrative structures, with possible long-term neurobehavioral consequences.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number5
    JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
    Publication statusPublished - Dec 2019


    • Airborne pollution
    • Diesel exhaust
    • Nano-particulate matter
    • Gestational exposure
    • Olfactory dysfunction
    • Olfactory toxicity
    • Bulbar neurotransmitter disturbances
    • Pheromonal response
    • Olfactory-based behavior


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