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AOP: 48


A descriptive phrase which references both the Molecular Initiating Event and Adverse Outcome.It should take the form “MIE leading to AO”. For example, “Aromatase inhibition leading to reproductive dysfunction” where Aromatase inhibition is the MIE and reproductive dysfunction the AO. In cases where the MIE is unknown or undefined, the earliest known KE in the chain (i.e., furthest upstream) should be used in lieu of the MIE and it should be made clear that the stated event is a KE and not the MIE.  More help

Binding of agonists to ionotropic glutamate receptors in adult brain causes excitotoxicity that mediates neuronal cell death, contributing to learning and memory impairment.

Short name
A name that succinctly summarises the information from the title. This name should not exceed 90 characters. More help
ionotropic glutamatergic receptors and cognition
The current version of the Developer's Handbook will be automatically populated into the Handbook Version field when a new AOP page is created.Authors have the option to switch to a newer (but not older) Handbook version any time thereafter. More help
Handbook Version v1.0

Graphical Representation

A graphical representation of the AOP.This graphic should list all KEs in sequence, including the MIE (if known) and AO, and the pair-wise relationships (links or KERs) between those KEs. More help
Click to download graphical representation template Explore AOP in a Third Party Tool


The names and affiliations of the individual(s)/organisation(s) that created/developed the AOP. More help

Magdalini Sachana, Sharon Munn, Anna Bal-Price

European Commission Joint Research Centre, Institute for Health and Consumer Protection, Ispra, Italy

Corresponding author:

Point of Contact

The user responsible for managing the AOP entry in the AOP-KB and controlling write access to the page by defining the contributors as described in the next section.   More help
Allie Always   (email point of contact)


Users with write access to the AOP page.  Entries in this field are controlled by the Point of Contact. More help
  • Anna Price
  • Allie Always


This field is used to identify coaches who supported the development of the AOP.Each coach selected must be a registered author. More help

OECD Information Table

Provides users with information concerning how actively the AOP page is being developed and whether it is part of the OECD Workplan and has been reviewed and/or endorsed. OECD Project: Assigned upon acceptance onto OECD workplan. This project ID is managed and updated (if needed) by the OECD. OECD Status: For AOPs included on the OECD workplan, ‘OECD status’ tracks the level of review/endorsement of the AOP . This designation is managed and updated by the OECD. Journal-format Article: The OECD is developing co-operation with Scientific Journals for the review and publication of AOPs, via the signature of a Memorandum of Understanding. When the scientific review of an AOP is conducted by these Journals, the journal review panel will review the content of the Wiki. In addition, the Journal may ask the AOP authors to develop a separate manuscript (i.e. Journal Format Article) using a format determined by the Journal for Journal publication. In that case, the journal review panel will be required to review both the Wiki content and the Journal Format Article. The Journal will publish the AOP reviewed through the Journal Format Article. OECD iLibrary published version: OECD iLibrary is the online library of the OECD. The version of the AOP that is published there has been endorsed by the OECD. The purpose of publication on iLibrary is to provide a stable version over time, i.e. the version which has been reviewed and revised based on the outcome of the review. AOPs are viewed as living documents and may continue to evolve on the AOP-Wiki after their OECD endorsement and publication.   More help
OECD Project # OECD Status Reviewer's Reports Journal-format Article OECD iLibrary Published Version
1.23 WPHA/WNT Endorsed
This AOP was last modified on May 26, 2024 20:39

Revision dates for related pages

Page Revision Date/Time
Mitochondrial dysfunction April 17, 2024 08:26
Impairment, Learning and memory June 26, 2023 12:44
Cell injury/death July 15, 2022 09:46
N/A, Neurodegeneration February 23, 2021 05:07
Overactivation, NMDARs January 04, 2023 18:39
Increased, Intracellular Calcium overload June 26, 2020 04:45
Decreased, Neuronal network function in adult brain September 16, 2017 10:15
Binding of agonist, Ionotropic glutamate receptors September 16, 2017 10:15
Neuroinflammation July 15, 2022 09:54
Overactivation, NMDARs leads to Increased, Intracellular Calcium overload September 10, 2023 20:11
Cell injury/death leads to N/A, Neurodegeneration September 10, 2023 19:25
Neuroinflammation leads to N/A, Neurodegeneration February 23, 2021 05:47
N/A, Neurodegeneration leads to Neuroinflammation June 13, 2018 09:35
Binding of agonist, Ionotropic glutamate receptors leads to Overactivation, NMDARs November 29, 2016 20:44
Increased, Intracellular Calcium overload leads to Mitochondrial dysfunction November 29, 2016 20:08
Mitochondrial dysfunction leads to Cell injury/death November 29, 2016 20:08
Cell injury/death leads to Neuroinflammation July 15, 2022 08:26
Decreased, Neuronal network function in adult brain leads to Impairment, Learning and memory November 29, 2016 20:23
N/A, Neurodegeneration leads to Decreased, Neuronal network function in adult brain November 29, 2016 20:24


A concise and informative summation of the AOP under development that can stand-alone from the AOP page. The aim is to capture the highlights of the AOP and its potential scientific and regulatory relevance. More help

Under physiological conditions activation of glutamate ionotropic receptors such as N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDARs), alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionate (AMPARs) and kainate (KARs) is responsible for basal excitatory synaptic transmission and main forms of synaptic plasticity such as long-term potentiation (LTP) and long-term depression (LTD) that are fundamental for learning and memory processes (Schrattenholz and Soskic, 2006). However, sustained (direct or indirect) over-activation of these receptors can induce excitotoxic neuronal cell death. Indeed, mainly increased Ca2+ influx through NMDARs promotes many pathways of toxicity due to generation of free radical species, reduced ATP production, endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress and protein aggregation. Neuronal injury induced by over-activation of these receptors and the excessive Ca2+ influx is considered an early key event of excitotoxicity. Additionally, the excessive activation of NMDARs has been found to play a significant role in a variety of neurological disorders ranging from acute hypoxic-ischemic brain injury (Barenger et al., 2001) to chronic neurodegenerative diseases (Mehta et al., 2013). The proposed AOP is relevant to adult neurotoxicity testing. A molecular initiating event (MIE) has been defined as a direct binding of agonists to NMDARs or indirect, through prior activation of AMPARs and/or KARs resulting in sustained NMDARs over-activation causing excitotoxic neuronal cell death, mainly in hippocampus and cortex, two brain structures fundamental for learning and memory processes. The AOP is based on the empirical support describing (1) domoic acid (DomA) induced excitotoxicity triggered by indirect (through KARs/AMPARs) NMDARs over-activation leading to impaired learning and memory and (2) glufosinate (GLF) induced excitotoxicity that through direct binding to NMDARs causes convulsions and memory loss (Lanz et al., 2014). GLF is the methylphosphine analog of L-glutamate, used as a component of bactericidal and fungicidal herbicidal. DomA, a natural toxin that accumulates in mussels and shellfish is also an analogue of L-glutamate and among the most prominent features described after human exposure to DomA is memory impairment (Lefebvre and Robertson, 2010). DomA and GLF are described as the examples of the stressors due to large amounts of published data (especially in the case of DomA), however this AOP is relevant to any agonist that directly or indirectly cause NMDARs over-activation. Some of the known agonists selective for the NMDARs are derived from the naturally occurring amino acids such as ibotenic acid, homocysteine and l-aspartate and polyamines like spermidine.

AOP Development Strategy


Used to provide background information for AOP reviewers and users that is considered helpful in understanding the biology underlying the AOP and the motivation for its development.The background should NOT provide an overview of the AOP, its KEs or KERs, which are captured in more detail below. More help


Provides a description of the approaches to the identification, screening and quality assessment of the data relevant to identification of the key events and key event relationships included in the AOP or AOP network.This information is important as a basis to support the objective/envisaged application of the AOP by the regulatory community and to facilitate the reuse of its components.  Suggested content includes a rationale for and description of the scope and focus of the data search and identification strategy/ies including the nature of preliminary scoping and/or expert input, the overall literature screening strategy and more focused literature surveys to identify additional information (including e.g., key search terms, databases and time period searched, any tools used). More help

Summary of the AOP

This section is for information that describes the overall AOP.The information described in section 1 is entered on the upper portion of an AOP page within the AOP-Wiki. This is where some background information may be provided, the structure of the AOP is described, and the KEs and KERs are listed. More help


Molecular Initiating Events (MIE)
An MIE is a specialised KE that represents the beginning (point of interaction between a prototypical stressor and the biological system) of an AOP. More help
Key Events (KE)
A measurable event within a specific biological level of organisation. More help
Adverse Outcomes (AO)
An AO is a specialized KE that represents the end (an adverse outcome of regulatory significance) of an AOP. More help
Type Event ID Title Short name
MIE 875 Binding of agonist, Ionotropic glutamate receptors Binding of agonist, Ionotropic glutamate receptors
KE 177 Mitochondrial dysfunction Mitochondrial dysfunction
KE 55 Cell injury/death Cell injury/death
KE 352 N/A, Neurodegeneration N/A, Neurodegeneration
KE 388 Overactivation, NMDARs Overactivation, NMDARs
KE 389 Increased, Intracellular Calcium overload Increased, Intracellular Calcium overload
KE 618 Decreased, Neuronal network function in adult brain Decreased, Neuronal network function in adult brain
KE 188 Neuroinflammation Neuroinflammation
AO 341 Impairment, Learning and memory Impairment, Learning and memory

Relationships Between Two Key Events (Including MIEs and AOs)

This table summarizes all of the KERs of the AOP and is populated in the AOP-Wiki as KERs are added to the AOP.Each table entry acts as a link to the individual KER description page. More help

Network View

This network graphic is automatically generated based on the information provided in the MIE(s), KEs, AO(s), KERs and Weight of Evidence (WoE) summary tables. The width of the edges representing the KERs is determined by its WoE confidence level, with thicker lines representing higher degrees of confidence. This network view also shows which KEs are shared with other AOPs. More help

Prototypical Stressors

A structured data field that can be used to identify one or more “prototypical” stressors that act through this AOP. Prototypical stressors are stressors for which responses at multiple key events have been well documented. More help

Life Stage Applicability

The life stage for which the AOP is known to be applicable. More help
Life stage Evidence
Adults High

Taxonomic Applicability

Latin or common names of a species or broader taxonomic grouping (e.g., class, order, family) can be selected.In many cases, individual species identified in these structured fields will be those for which the strongest evidence used in constructing the AOP was available. More help
Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
human Homo sapiens High NCBI
mouse Mus musculus High NCBI
rat Rattus norvegicus High NCBI

Sex Applicability

The sex for which the AOP is known to be applicable. More help
Sex Evidence
Male High
Female High

Overall Assessment of the AOP

Addressess the relevant biological domain of applicability (i.e., in terms of taxa, sex, life stage, etc.) and Weight of Evidence (WoE) for the overall AOP as a basis to consider appropriate regulatory application (e.g., priority setting, testing strategies or risk assessment). More help

The aim of the present AOP is to construct a linear pathway that captures the KEs and KERs that occur after binding of agonist to NMDA receptor in hippocampal and cortical neurons of adults. The majority of the KEs of the AOP are characterised by MODERATE essentiality for the AO (loss or reduction of cognitive function )or other KEs that follow. The biological plausibility in the majority of KERs is rated STRONG as there is extensive mechanistic understanding. However, the empirical support for the majority of presented KERs cannot be rated high as in most occasions the KEup and KEdown of a KER has not been investigated simultaneously, under the same experimental protocol or not in the suggested brain regions (cortex and hippocampus).

Domain of Applicability

Addressess the relevant biological domain(s) of applicability in terms of sex, life-stage, taxa, and other aspects of biological context. More help

Life Stage Applicability: This AOP is applicable for adults. However, studies exploring the neurotoxic effects of DomA on the developing nervous system demonstrate that DomA can cause neurobehavioral, biochemical and morphological effects similar to the ones observed in adult animals (reviewed in Costa et al., 2010). The DomA doses required to cause these effects in developing organisms are one to two orders of magnitude lower than those needed for loss or reduction of cognitive function in adults. This difference has been attributed to toxicokinetic and/or toxicodynamic particularities that exist between adults and children.

Taxonomic Applicability: The data used to support the KERs in this AOP derives from experimental studies conducted in primates, rats and mice or cell cultures of similar origin as well as from human epidemiological studies or clinical cases of DomA poisoning. The majority of the KEs in this AOP seem to be highly conserved across species. It remains to be proved if these KERs of the present AOP are also applicable for other species rather than human, primates, rats or mice. Increasing evidence from sea lions exposed to DomA further supports some of the KERs of the present AOP.

Sex Applicability: The majority of the studies addressing the KEs and KERs of this AOP have been carried out mainly in male laboratory animals. Few studies are available in females and some of them compare the effects between females and males. It appears that this AOP is applicable for both females and males.

Essentiality of the Key Events

The essentiality of KEs can only be assessed relative to the impact of manipulation of a given KE (e.g., experimentally blocking or exacerbating the event) on the downstream sequence of KEs defined for the AOP. Consequently, evidence supporting essentiality is assembled on the AOP page, rather than on the independent KE pages that are meant to stand-alone as modular units without reference to other KEs in the sequence. The nature of experimental evidence that is relevant to assessing essentiality relates to the impact on downstream KEs and the AO if upstream KEs are prevented or modified. This includes: Direct evidence: directly measured experimental support that blocking or preventing a KE prevents or impacts downstream KEs in the pathway in the expected fashion. Indirect evidence: evidence that modulation or attenuation in the magnitude of impact on a specific KE (increased effect or decreased effect) is associated with corresponding changes (increases or decreases) in the magnitude or frequency of one or more downstream KEs. More help

1) Essentiality of KE "NMDARs, Overactivation" for the KE "Cell death" is MODERATE. NMDARs play a central role in excitotoxic neuronal injury. Over-activation of these receptors causes disruption of Ca2+ homeostasis that through mitochondrial dysfunction triggers signals leading to apoptotic or necrotic death. However, the ways that cells respond to mitochondrial injury vary and often are considered unclear and controversial (Pivovarova and Andrews, 2010). However, NMDAR antagonists failed to reverse these Ca2+ induced cell deaths, leading to suggestions that NMDAR-independent pathways that involve α-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-4-isoxazolepropionic acid receptors (AMPARs), acid-sensing channels and transient receptor potential channels might be also responsible for excitotoxic neuronal injury (Pivovarova and Andrews, 2010). Several agonists have higher affinity than NMDA itself but are not relevant for behavioural studies as NMDA activation leads to epilepsy and cell death, a common approach to induce neurotoxic lesions.

2) Essentiality of KE "Calcium influx, Increased" for the KE "Cell death" is MODERATE. Ca2+ plays important role in excitotoxicity but the mechanisms involved in excitotoxic cell death are still debated (Berliocchi et al., 2005). Depending on the extent and the duration of the Ca2+ influx, neurons survive, die through apoptotic mechanisms in case of sustained slow Ca2+ influx, or undergo necrosis when rapid high Ca2+ influx occurs. Over-expression of the endogenous calpain inhibitor, calpastatin, or the calpain-resistant isoform the Na+/Ca2+ exchanger 2 (NCX2) prevents Ca2+ overload and protects neurons from excitotoxicity (Bano et al., 2005).

3) Essentiality of KE "Mitochondria dysfunction" for the AO "Impairment of learning and memory" is STRONG. ROS is known to have a negative effect on synaptic plasticity and learning and memory (reviewed in Lynch, 2004). H2O2 inhibits LTP both in vitro and in vivo, which is associated with increased ROS. A negative correlation has been found between ROS concentration in hippocampus and ability of rats to sustain LTP. Administration of antioxidants, vitamins E and C, reverses the inhibitory effects of stress on LTP and prevents the increase of ROS in hippocampus. In transgenic mice that overexpress superoxide dismutase (SOD), the enzyme which catalyzes the conversion of superoxide to H2O2, the LTP in CA1 is inhibited. Intracerebroventricular injection of H2O2, at a concentration which increases ROS levels in hippocampus, impairs LTP that is prevented after pretreatment with the antioxidant phenylarsine oxide. Knocking down Forkhead box protein O1 (FoxO1) in mice, which is an important regulator of mitochondrial function, reverses mitochondrial abnormalities and cognitive impairment induced by DA in mice (Wu et al., 2013).

4) Essentiality of KE "Mitochondria dysfunction" for the KE "Cell death" is MODERATE. There is a considerable number of mitochondrial associated processes that lead to necrotic or apoptotic cell death such as uncoupling of oxidative phosphorylation, activation of the mitochondrial permeability transition pore (MPTP), release of pro-apoptotic proteins, activation of poly(ADP-ribose) polymerase-1 and proteases such as calpain, increased levels of and delayed Ca2+ de-regulation (Pivovarova and Andrews, 2010). Although the understanding of these mechanisms is clearly established, the cascade of events and the significance of them are less clear (Pivovarova and Andrews, 2010). A significant body of evidence, both clinical and experimental, supports a role for the mitochondrial permeability transition pore in excitotoxicity (reviewed in Pivovarova and Andrews, 2010). However, the effects of cyclosporin A, the classical MPTP inhibitor, on neuronal mitochondria are inconsistent raising doubts about its role in neural cell death. However, ADP/ATP translocator deficiency, which is not essential for MPTP but does regulate pore opening, protects neurons against excitotoxicity. Furthermore, MPTP opening renders neurons vulnerable to excitotoxicity.

Evidence Assessment

Addressess the biological plausibility, empirical support, and quantitative understanding from each KER in an AOP. More help

The table provides a summary of the biological plausibility and the empirical support for each KER described in this AOP based on "Annex 1: Guidance for assessing relative level of confidence in the overall AOP based on rank ordered elements" found in the User's Handbook.

More information about the evidence that support these KERs and the relevant literature can be found in each KER description.

The main base for the overall scoring is that the empirical support coming from the experiments with one stressor (domoic acid, DomA). However this AOP is not specific for DomA, it is applicable to any chemicals that act as NMDARs agonists.

KERs WoE Biological plausibility Does KEup occurs at lower doses than KEdown? Does KEup occurs at earlier time points than KE down? Is there higher incidence of KEup than of KEdown? Inconsistencies/Uncertainties
Binding of agonist to NMDARs directly leads to NMDARs overactivation Extensive understanding N/A Yes N/A Limited conficting data
NMDARs overactivation directly leads to increased calcium influx Extensive understanding Same dose Yes Not investigated Limited conficting data
Increased calcium influx indirectly leads to mitochondrial dysfunction Extensive understanding Same dose Yes Yes No conflicting data
Mitochondrial dysfunction directly leads to cell death Extensive understanding Same dose Yes Yes Limited conficting data
Cell death leads to Neurodegeneration Extensive understanding Same dose Yes Yes Limited conficting data
Cell death leads to Neuroinflammation Extensive understanding Not investigated Not investigated Not investigated N/A
Neurodegeneration directly leads to Decreased neuronal network function Extensive understanding Not investigated Not investigated Not investigated N/A
Decreased neuronal network function indirectly leads to loss or reduction of cognitive function Scientific understanding is not completely established Not investigated Not investigated Not investigated N/A

Known Modulating Factors

Modulating factors (MFs) may alter the shape of the response-response function that describes the quantitative relationship between two KES, thus having an impact on the progression of the pathway or the severity of the AO.The evidence supporting the influence of various modulating factors is assembled within the individual KERs. More help

Quantitative Understanding

Optional field to provide quantitative weight of evidence descriptors.  More help

Considerations for Potential Applications of the AOP (optional)

Addressess potential applications of an AOP to support regulatory decision-making.This may include, for example, possible utility for test guideline development or refinement, development of integrated testing and assessment approaches, development of (Q)SARs / or chemical profilers to facilitate the grouping of chemicals for subsequent read-across, screening level hazard assessments or even risk assessment. More help

Exposure to xenobiotics can potentially affect the nervous system resulting in neurobehavioral alterations and/or neurological clinical symptoms. To assess the neurotoxic properties of compounds, current testing largely relies on neurobehavioural tests in laboratory animals, histopathological analysis, neurochemical and occasionally electrophysiological observations. Throughout the years, a significant number of methods have been developed to assess neurobehaviour in laboratory animals and a comprehensive summary of them can be found in OECD Series on testing and assessment, number 20, Guidance Document for Neurotoxicity Testing (2004). This document is considered an essential supplement to a substantial number of already existing OECD Test Guidelines that are applied to gain information on the neurotoxicity properties of chemical compounds. Namely, these are: general Test Guidelines such as single dose toxicity (e.g. OECD 402, 403, 420, 423 and 425), repeated dose toxicity (e.g. OECD 407 and 408), chronic exposure (e.g. OECD 452) as well as Test Guidelines specifically developed for the study of neurotoxicity in adult laboratory animals, such as OECD Test Guideline for Neurotoxicity (424).

Learning and memory is an important endpoint and a wide variety of tests to assess chemical effects on cognitive functions is available and used for the study of neurotoxicity. Some of these tests that allow the appreciation of cognitive function in laboratory animals are: habituation, ethologically based anxiety tests (elevated plus maze test, black and white box test, social interaction test), conditioned taste aversion (CTA), active avoidance, passive avoidance, spatial mazes (Morris water maze, Biel water maze, T-maze), conditional discrimination (simple discrimination, matching to sample), delayed discrimination (delayed matching-to-sample, delayed alternation) and eye-blink conditioning.

The present AOP can potentially provide the basis for development of a mechanistically informed IATA for neurotoxicity. The construction of IATA for predicting neurotoxic effects in adults is expected to make use of more than one AOP within an interconnected network in order to take into consideration all critical biological processes that may contribute to impairment of learning and memory in adults. Through this network, identification of KEs and KERs common across multiple AOPs can emerge that should be considered during IATA construction and that may inform also in vitro assay development. The development of alternative assays would allow screening of chemicals for potential NMDAR activators and reducing the use of in vivo studies.

Results from assays based on the KEs of this AOP can serve to interpret and accept results that derive from non-standard test methods. Omics data from toxicogenomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, and metabolomic studies can be interpreted in a structured way using this AOP that is relevant to adult neurotoxicity. Currently learning and memory testing is not required by the OECD TG 424. This AOP could serve as a base for chemical evaluation with potential to cause impairment of learning and memory. The assay development would refer to the identified in this AOP KEs that could form a testing strategy for identifying chemicals with potential to cause cognitive deficit. Finally, this AOP could provide the opportunity to group chemicals using not only chemical properties but also mechanistic information that can later inform data gap filling by read-across and predict neurotoxic properties of a target substance.


List of the literature that was cited for this AOP. More help

Bano D, Young K.W, Guerin C.J, Lefeuvre R, Rothwell N.J, Naldini L, Rizzuto R, Carafoli E, Nicotera P. Cleavage of the plasma membrane Na+/Ca2+ exchanger in excitotoxicity. Cell, 2005, 120: 275-285.

Berliocchi L, Bano D, Nicotera P. Ca2+ signals and death programmes in neurons. Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci., 2005, 360: 2255-2258.

Costa LG, Giordano G, Faustman EM. Domoic acid as a developmental neurotoxin. Neurotoxicology, 2010, 31(5):409-23.

Health Effects Test Guidelines OPPTS 870.6300 Developmental Neurotoxicity Study, US EPA, Prevention, Pesticides and Toxic Substances (7101), EPA 712-C-96, 239, 1996, 1-14.

Lynch MA. Long-term potentiation and memory. Physiol Rev. 2004, 84(1):87-136.

OECD (2004) Series on testing and assessment number 20, Guidance document for neurotoxicity testing.

OECD (2007). Test Guideline 426. OECD Guideline for Testing of Chemicals. Developmental Neurotoxicity Study.,3343,en_2649_34377_2349687_1_1_ 1_1,00.html


Pivovarova NB, Andrews SB. Calcium-dependent mitochondrial function and dysfunction in neurons. FEBS J., 2010, 277: 3622-3636.

Wu DM, Lu J, Zhang YQ, Zheng YL, Hu B, Cheng W, Zhang ZF, Li MQ. Ursolic acid improves domoic acid-induced cognitive deficits in mice. Toxicol Appl Pharmacol., 2013, 271:127-36.