Author(s): Eells JT, Henry MM, Lewandowski MF, Seme MT, Murray TG
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Abstract Methanol is an important public health and environmental concern because of the selective actions of its neurotoxic metabolite, formic acid, on the retina, optic nerve and central nervous system. Humans and non-human primates are uniquely sensitive to methanol-induced neurotoxicity as a consequence of the limited capacity of primate species to oxidize and thus detoxify formic acid. The toxic syndrome in primates is characterized by formic acidemia, metabolic acidosis and blindness or serious visual impairment. Nonprimate species are normally resistant to the accumulation of formate and associated metabolic and visual toxicity. We have characterized retinal and optic nerve toxicity in a nonprimate model of methanol toxicity using rats in which folate-dependent formate oxidation has been selectively inhibited, allowing formate to accumulate to toxic concentrations following methanol administration. Methanol-intoxicated rats developed formic acidemia, metabolic acidosis and visual toxicity analogous to the human methanol poisoning syndrome. Visual dysfunction was manifested as reductions in the electroretinogram and the flash-evoked cortical potential which occurred coincident with blood formate accumulation. Histological studies revealed mitochondrial disruption and vacuolation in the retinal pigment epithelium, photoreceptor inner segments and optic nerve. The temporal relationship between methanol administration and the onset and development of ocular toxicity, as well as, the degree of metabolic acidosis and extent of formic acidemia in this rodent model are remarkably similar to that documented in human methanol intoxication. Moreover, the functional and morphologic findings in methanol-intoxicated rats are consistent with the hypothesis that formate acts as a mitochondrial toxin in the retina and optic nerve. The establishment and characterization of this nonprimate animal model of methanol intoxication will facilitate research into the mechanistic aspects of methanol toxicity and the development and testing of treatments for human methanol poisoning.
This article was published in Neurotoxicology
and referenced in Journal of Clinical Toxicology