Activation of Nrf2 by lead sulfide nanoparticles induces impairment of learning and memory†
Lead sulfide nanoparticles (PbS NPs) are semiconductor materials that have been widely applied to light-emitting diodes (LEDs), biological fluorescent probes, infrared detection, solar receivers, ion-selective electrodes, and ion-sensitive materials. However, the effects of PbS NPs on the central nervous system are still unclear. Thus, this study aimed to determine, using rats, the mechanism of action of PbS NPs, exposure to which results in persistent alterations in nervous system function. The results of the Morris water maze test showed that PbS NPs significantly impaired learning and memory. Compared with that in the control group, the lead content in the hippocampal tissue was significantly elevated after PbS NP exposure. Exposure to PbS NPs led to increased oxidative damage in blood and hippocampal tissues, and significantly inhibited the activities of superoxide dismutase (SOD), glutathione peroxidase (GSH-Px), and catalase (CAT) while increasing the serum malondialdehyde (MDA) content. In addition, reactive oxygen species triggered the activation of Nrf2 and the antioxidant system, including HO-1, r-GCS, and GSH-Px. Moreover, we observed significant apoptosis in the hippocampi of the rats using the TUNEL assay and transmission electron microscopy. The MOD values from the TUNEL assay of the hippocampi were all significantly higher than those of the control group, which increased as the concentration of the PbS NPs increased. There were also changes in the ultrastructure of the hippocampal neurons and synapses in the PbS-treated rats, including a shorter synaptic active zone, smaller curvature of the synaptic interface, and thicker postsynaptic density. Therefore, PbS NP exposure could lead to increased brain lead content, oxidative damage, and apoptosis.