Ketamine induces motor neuron toxicity and alters neurogenic and proneural gene expression in zebrafish

Jyotshna Kanungo, Elvis Cuevas, Syed F. Ali, Merle G. Paule

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Ketamine, a noncompetitive antagonist of N-methyl-d-aspartate-type glutamate receptors, is a pediatric anesthetic that has been shown to be neurotoxic in rodents and nonhuman primates when administered during the brain growth spurt. Recently, the zebrafish has become an attractive model for toxicity assays, in part because the predictive capability of the zebrafish model, with respect to chemical effects, compares well with that from mammalian models. In the transgenic (hb9:GFP) embryos used in this study, green fluorescent protein (GFP) is expressed in the motor neurons, facilitating the visualization and analysis of motor neuron development in vivo. In order to determine whether ketamine induces motor neuron toxicity in zebrafish, embryos of these transgenic fish were treated with different concentrations of ketamine (0.5 and 2.0mm). For ketamine exposures lasting up to 20h, larvae showed no gross morphological abnormalities. Analysis of GFP-expressing motor neurons in the live embryos, however, revealed that 2.0mm ketamine adversely affected motor neuron axon length and decreased cranial and motor neuron populations. Quantitative reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction analysis demonstrated that ketamine down-regulated the motor neuron-inducing zinc finger transcription factor Gli2b and the proneural gene NeuroD even at 0.5mm concentration, while up-regulating the expression of the proneural gene Neurogenin1 (Ngn1). Expression of the neurogenic gene, Notch1a, was suppressed, indicating that neuronal precursor generation from uncommitted cells was favored. These results suggest that ketamine is neurotoxic to motor neurons in zebrafish and possibly affects the differentiating/differentiatedneurons rather than neuronal progenitors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)410-417
Number of pages8
JournalJournal of Applied Toxicology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • Gene expression
  • Ketamine
  • Motor neuron
  • Neurotoxicity
  • Transgenic zebrafish

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


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