A novel approach to assessing percutaneous VX poisoning in the conscious guinea-pig

Helen Mumford, Matthew E Price, Janet R Wetherell
Journal of Applied Toxicology: JAT 2008, 28 (5): 694-702
Nerve agents like VX (S-2-diisopropylaminoethyl-O-ethyl-methylphosphonothiolate) are potent irreversible acetylcholinesterase (AChE) inhibitors. Following percutaneous nerve agent exposure there is a slower rate of absorption, later onset and longer duration of signs of poisoning. Relatively little is known about the physiological effects of percutaneously applied nerve agent in unanaesthetised laboratory animals. Heart rate (ECG), brain electrical activity (EEG), body temperature, locomotor activity and clinical signs were monitored following percutaneous application of VX to conscious guinea-pigs.A fall in heart rate (bradycardia) preceded incapacitation following the highest VX dose, and occurred in the absence of incapacitation at the lower doses. Following the highest dose of VX (0.592 mg kg(-1)) three out of four animals died within 24 h. The lower two doses of VX (0.296 and 0.148 mg kg(-1)), produced extended periods of bradycardia in the absence of observable signs of poisoning. Bradycardia preceded, or occurred in the absence of, a temperature decrease; seizure-like EEG changes were not observed at any of the VX doses tested. Acetylcholinesterase activity was significantly inhibited in the blood and most brain areas at 48 h. There were significant dose-related decreases in body weight at 24 and 48 h following VX. This preliminary study suggests that decreased heart rate may be an early sign of the toxic effects of VX, whereas temperature and observable clinical signs are not good early indicators of percutaneous VX poisoning in this animal model. Future studies will use this model to assess the benefit of administering medical countermeasures in response to a defined decrease in heart rate.

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