Exposure to a variety of agricultural, industrial, and pharmaceutical chemicals produces nerve damage classified as a central-peripheral distal axonopathy. Morphologically, this axonopathy is characterized by distal axon swellings and secondary degeneration. Over the past 25 years substantial research efforts have been devoted toward deciphering the molecular mechanisms of these presumed hallmark neuropathic features. However, recent studies suggest that axon swelling and degeneration are related to subchronic low-dose neurotoxicant exposure rates (i.e., mg toxicant/kg/day) and not to the development of neurophysiological deficits or behavioral toxicity. This suggests these phenomena are nonspecific and of uncertain pathophysiologic relevance. This possibility has significant implications for research investigating mechanisms of neurotoxicity, development of exposure biomarkers, design of risk assessment models, neurotoxicant classification schemes, and clinical diagnosis and treatment of toxic neuropathies. In this commentary we will review the evidence for the dose-related dependency of distal axonopathies and discuss how this concept might influence our current understanding of chemical-induced neurotoxicities. (C) 2000 Academic Press.
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