Phencyclidine and other antagonists of the N-methyl-D-aspartate subtype of glutamate receptor cause psychosis in humans. In low doses these agents induce a reversible neurotoxic reaction in the rat brain that is limited to the retrosplenial granular cortex. Some investigators have reported that phencyclidine at higher doses or by more prolonged treatment causes a more disseminated pattern of damage. However, it has not been clearly demonstrated whether the disseminated damage is reversible or irreversible and whether it is consistently reproducible, nor is it known how many and which neurons are at risk. In the present study we addressed these questions using several histological approaches (plastic-embedded thin sections for light microscopy and ultrathin plastic sections for electron microscopy, paraffin-embedded haematoxylin and eosin sections, 72 kDa heat shock protein immunocytochemistry and de Olmos silver impregnation) to study the lesions induced in rat brain by phencyclidine (alone or when augmented with pilocarpine). We found that phencyclidine can kill a relatively large number of neurons distributed over many cerebrocortical and limbic brain regions, but the multifocal pattern of damage occurred in only a small percentage of treated rats. The addition of a low dose of pilocarpine to phencyclidine caused the widespread pattern of damage to manifest on a much more consistent basis. Available evidence suggests that disinhibition of multiple converging excitatory pathways is the mechanism by which phencyclidine triggers widespread neuronal degeneration; however, the specific combination of excitatory inputs that contributes to the pathological process may differ from region to region.
- NMDA antagonists
- de Olmos silver staining
- haemotoxylin and eosin
- heat shock protein immunocytochemistry
- retrosplenial granular cortex