To the extent possible under law, AOP-Wiki has waived all copyright and related or neighboring rights to KER:359

Relationship: 359


The title of the KER should clearly define the two KEs being considered and the sequential relationship between them (i.e., which is upstream and which is downstream). Consequently all KER titles take the form “upstream KE leads to downstream KE”.  More help

Neuronal network function, Decreased leads to Impairment, Learning and memory

Upstream event
Upstream event in the Key Event Relationship. On the KER page, clicking on the Event name under Upstream Relationship will bring the user to that individual KE page. More help
Downstream event
Downstream event in the Key Event Relationship. On the KER page, clicking on the Event name under Upstream Relationship will bring the user to that individual KE page. More help

Key Event Relationship Overview

The utility of AOPs for regulatory application is defined, to a large extent, by the confidence and precision with which they facilitate extrapolation of data measured at low levels of biological organisation to predicted outcomes at higher levels of organisation and the extent to which they can link biological effect measurements to their specific causes. Within the AOP framework, the predictive relationships that facilitate extrapolation are represented by the KERs. Consequently, the overall WoE for an AOP is a reflection in part, of the level of confidence in the underlying series of KERs it encompasses. Therefore, describing the KERs in an AOP involves assembling and organising the types of information and evidence that defines the scientific basis for inferring the probable change in, or state of, a downstream KE from the known or measured state of an upstream KE. More help

AOPs Referencing Relationship

This table is automatically generated upon addition of a KER to an AOP. All of the AOPs that are linked to this KER will automatically be listed in this subsection. Clicking on the name of the AOP in the table will bring you to the individual page for that AOP. More help

Taxonomic Applicability

Select one or more structured terms that help to define the biological applicability domain of the KER. In general, this will be dictated by the more restrictive of the two KEs being linked together by the KER. Authors can indicate the relevant taxa for this KER in this subsection. The process is similar to what is described for KEs (see pages 30-31 and 37-38 of User Handbook) More help
Term Scientific Term Evidence Link
human Homo sapiens High NCBI
rat Rattus norvegicus High NCBI
mouse Mus musculus High NCBI

Sex Applicability

Authors can indicate the relevant sex for this KER in this subsection. The process is similar to what is described for KEs (see pages 31-32 of the User Handbook). More help
Sex Evidence
Mixed High

Life Stage Applicability

Authors can indicate the relevant life stage for this KER in this subsection. The process is similar to what is described for KEs (see pages 31-32 of User Handbook). More help
Term Evidence
During brain development High

Key Event Relationship Description

Provide a brief, descriptive summation of the KER. While the title itself is fairly descriptive, this section can provide details that aren’t inherent in the description of the KEs themselves (see page 39 of the User Handbook). This description section can be viewed as providing the increased specificity in the nature of upstream perturbation (KEupstream) that leads to a particular downstream perturbation (KEdownstream), while allowing the KE descriptions to remain generalised so they can be linked to different AOPs. The description is also intended to provide a concise overview for readers who may want a brief summation, without needing to read through the detailed support for the relationship (covered below). Careful attention should be taken to avoid reference to other KEs that are not part of this KER, other KERs or other AOPs. This will ensure that the KER is modular and can be used by other AOPs. More help

Learning and memory is one of the outcomes of the functional expression of neurons and neural networks from mammalian to invertebrates. Damage or destruction of neurons by chemical compounds during development when they are in the process of synapses formation, integration and formation of neural networks, will derange the organization and function of these networks, thereby setting the stage for subsequent impairment of learning and memory. Exposure to the potential developmental toxicants during neuronal differentiation and synaptogenesis will increase risk of functional neuronal network damage leading to learning and memory impairment.

Impairments in learning and memory are measured using behavioral techniques. It is well accepted that these alterations in behavior are the result of structural or functional changes in neurocircuitry. Functional impairments are often measured using field potentials of critical synaptic circuits in hippocampus and cortex. A number of studies have been performed in rodent models that reveal deficits in both excitatory and inhibitory synaptic transmission in the hippocampus as a result of developmental thyroid insufficiency (Wang et al., 2012; Oerbeck et al., 2003; Wheeler et al., 2011; Wheeler et al., 2015; Willoughby et al., 2014; Davenport and Dorcey, 1972; Tamasy et al., 1986; Akaike, 1991; Axelstad et al., 2008; Gilbert and Sui, 2006; Gilbert et al., 2016; Gilbert, 2011; Gilbert et al., 2016). A well-established functional readout of memory at the synaptic level is known as long-term potentiation (LTP) (i.e., a persistent strengthening of synapses based on recent patterns of activity). Deficiencies in LTP are generally regarded as potential substrates of learning and memory impairments. In rodent models where synaptic function is impaired by TH deficiencies, deficits in hippocampus-mediated memory are also prevalent (Gilbert and Sui, 2006; Gilbert et al., 2016; Gilbert, 2011; Gilbert et al., 2016).

Evidence Supporting this KER

Assembly and description of the scientific evidence supporting KERs in an AOP is an important step in the AOP development process that sets the stage for overall assessment of the AOP (see pages 49-56 of the User Handbook). To do this, biological plausibility, empirical support, and the current quantitative understanding of the KER are evaluated with regard to the predictive relationships/associations between defined pairs of KEs as a basis for considering WoE (page 55 of User Handbook). In addition, uncertainties and inconsistencies are considered. More help

A number of studies have consistently reported alterations in synaptic transmission resulting from developmental TH disruption, and leading to decreased cognition.

Biological Plausibility
Define, in free text, the biological rationale for a connection between KEupstream and KEdownstream. What are the structural or functional relationships between the KEs? For example, there is a functional relationship between an enzyme’s activity and the product of a reaction it catalyses. Supporting references should be included. However, it is recognised that there may be cases where the biological relationship between two KEs is very well established, to the extent that it is widely accepted and consistently supported by so much literature that it is unnecessary and impractical to cite the relevant primary literature. Citation of review articles or other secondary sources, like text books, may be reasonable in such cases. The primary intent is to provide scientifically credible support for the structural and/or functional relationship between the pair of KEs if one is known. The description of biological plausibility can also incorporate additional mechanistic details that help inform the relationship between KEs, this is useful when it is not practical/pragmatic to represent these details as separate KEs due to the difficulty or relative infrequency with which it is likely to be measured (see page 40 of the User Handbook for further information).   More help

Long-term potentiation (LTP) is a long-lasting increase in synaptic efficacy (not always and not always high frequency stimulation leads to LTP), and its discovery suggested that changes in synaptic strength could provide the substrate for learning and memory (reviewed in Lynch, 2004). Moreover, LTP is intimately related to the theta rhythm, an oscillation long associated with learning. Learning-induced enhancement in neuronal excitability, a measurement of neural network function, has also been shown in hippocampal neurons following classical conditioning in several experimental approaches (reviewed in Saar and Barkai, 2003).

On the other hand, memory requires the increase in magnitude of EPSCs to be developed quickly and to be persistent for few weeks at least without disturbing already potentiated contacts. Once again, a substantial body of evidence has demonstrated that tight connection between LTP and diverse instances of memory exist (reviewed in Lynch, 2004).

A review on Morris water maze (MWM) as a tool to investigate spatial learning and memory in laboratory rats also pointed out that the disconnection between neuronal networks rather than the brain damage of certain regions is responsible for the impairment of MWM performance. Functional integrated neural networks that involve the coordination action of different brain regions are consequently important for spatial learning and MWM performance (D'Hooge and De Deyn, 2001).

Moreover, it is well accepted that alterations in synaptic transmission and plasticity contribute to deficits in cognitive function. There are a number of studies that have linked exposure to TPO inhibitors (e.g., PTU, MMI), as well as iodine deficient diets, to changes in serum TH levels, which result in alterations in both synaptic function and cognitive behaviors (Akaike et al., 1991; Vara et al., 2002; Gilbert and Sui, 2006; Axelstad et al., 2008; Taylor et al., 2008; Gilbert, 2011; Gilbert et al., 2016), described in the indirect KER "Decrease of TH synthesis leads to learning and memory deficits".

Uncertainties and Inconsistencies
In addition to outlining the evidence supporting a particular linkage, it is also important to identify inconsistencies or uncertainties in the relationship. Additionally, while there are expected patterns of concordance that support a causal linkage between the KEs in the pair, it is also helpful to identify experimental details that may explain apparent deviations from the expected patterns of concordance. Identification of uncertainties and inconsistencies contribute to evaluation of the overall WoE supporting the AOPs that contain a given KER and to the identification of research gaps that warrant investigation (seep pages 41-42 of the User Handbook).Given that AOPs are intended to support regulatory applications, AOP developers should focus on those inconsistencies or gaps that would have a direct bearing or impact on the confidence in the KER and its use as a basis for inference or extrapolation in a regulatory setting. Uncertainties that may be of academic interest but would have little impact on regulatory application don’t need to be described. In general, this section details evidence that may raise questions regarding the overall validity and predictive utility of the KER (including consideration of both biological plausibility and empirical support). It also contributes along with several other elements to the overall evaluation of the WoE for the KER (see Section 4 of the User Handbook).  More help

One of the most difficult issues for neuroscientists is to link neuronal network function to cognition, including learning and memory. It is still unclear what modifications of neuronal circuits need to happen in order to alter motor behaviour as it is recorded in a learning and memory test (Mayford et al., 2012), meaning that there is no clear understanding about the how these two KEs are connected.

Several epidemiological studies where Pb2+ exposure levels have been studied in relation to neurobehavioural alterations in children have been reviewed in Koller et al. 2004. This review has concluded that in some occasions there is negative correlation between Pb2+ dose and cognitive deficits of the subjects due to high influence of social and parenting factors in cognitive ability like learning and memory (Koller et al. 2004), meaning that not always Pb2+ exposure is positively associated with learning and memory impairment in children.

The direct relationship of alterations in neural network function and specific cognitive deficits is difficult to ascertain given the many forms that learning and memory can take and the complexity of synaptic interactions in even the simplest brain circuit. Linking of neurophysiological assessments to learning and memory processes have, by necessity, been made across simple monosynaptic connections and largely focused on the hippocampus. Alterations in synaptic function have been found in the absence of behavioral impairments. This may result from measuring only one component in the complex brain circuitry that underlies 'cognition', behavioral tests that are not sufficiently sensitive for the detection of subtle cognitive impairments, and behavioral plasticity whereby tasks are solved by the animal via different strategies developed as a consequence of developmental insult.

Finally, in order to provide empirical support for this KER, data on the effects of lead (Pb) exposure are reported. However, Pb exposure is not always associated with learning and memory impairment in children. In this regard, Koller's review has commented that in some occasions, low-level Pb dose and cognitive deficits of the subjects are negatively correlated, and this may be due to the high influence of social and parenting factors in cognitive ability, like learning and memory (Koller et al., 2004).


Olczak et al., 2001. Postnatal exposure of rats to Thimerosal (4 injections with 12, 240, 1440 and 3000 microgHg/kg per injection). Effects were measured in adult, which exhibited alterations in dopaminergic system with decline in the density of striatal D2 receptors, with a higher sensitivity for males. No alterations in spatial learning and memory was observed, but impairments of motor activity, increased anxiety (open fiel measurment), which are other symptoms of autism spectrum disorder.

Franco et al., 2006. Lactational exposure of mice to methylmercury in drinking water (10 mg/L). Analysis at weaning revealed only impairment in motor performances.

Franco et al., 2007. Lactational exposure of mice with mercury chloride (0.5 and 1.5 mg/kg,  i.p. injection once a day).. At weaning , animals exhibited an increased level of mercury in cerebellum associated with motor deficit.

Cardenas et al., 2017 showed that maternal red blood cell mercury of 3.8 ng/g was associated to increased DNA methylation of PON1 in umbilical cord blood only in male and observed deficit in cognitive performances, such as visual motor ability, vocabiary and verbal intellgence.

Response-response Relationship
This subsection should be used to define sources of data that define the response-response relationships between the KEs. In particular, information regarding the general form of the relationship (e.g., linear, exponential, sigmoidal, threshold, etc.) should be captured if possible. If there are specific mathematical functions or computational models relevant to the KER in question that have been defined, those should also be cited and/or described where possible, along with information concerning the approximate range of certainty with which the state of the KEdownstream can be predicted based on the measured state of the KEupstream (i.e., can it be predicted within a factor of two, or within three orders of magnitude?). For example, a regression equation may reasonably describe the response-response relationship between the two KERs, but that relationship may have only been validated/tested in a single species under steady state exposure conditions. Those types of details would be useful to capture.  More help
This sub-section should be used to provide information regarding the approximate time-scale of the changes in KEdownstream relative to changes in KEupstream (i.e., do effects on KEdownstream lag those on KEupstream by seconds, minutes, hours, or days?). This can be useful information both in terms of modelling the KER, as well as for analyzing the critical or dominant paths through an AOP network (e.g., identification of an AO that could kill an organism in a matter of hours will generally be of higher priority than other potential AOs that take weeks or months to develop). Identification of time-scale can also aid the assessment of temporal concordance. For example, for a KER that operates on a time-scale of days, measurement of both KEs after just hours of exposure in a short-term experiment could lead to incorrect conclusions regarding dose-response or temporal concordance if the time-scale of the upstream to downstream transition was not considered. More help
Known modulating factors
This sub-section presents information regarding modulating factors/variables known to alter the shape of the response-response function that describes the quantitative relationship between the two KEs (for example, an iodine deficient diet causes a significant increase in the slope of the relationship; a particular genotype doubles the sensitivity of KEdownstream to changes in KEupstream). Information on these known modulating factors should be listed in this subsection, along with relevant information regarding the manner in which the modulating factor can be expected to alter the relationship (if known). Note, this section should focus on those modulating factors for which solid evidence supported by relevant data and literature is available. It should NOT list all possible/plausible modulating factors. In this regard, it is useful to bear in mind that many risk assessments conducted through conventional apical guideline testing-based approaches generally consider few if any modulating factors. More help
Known Feedforward/Feedback loops influencing this KER
This subsection should define whether there are known positive or negative feedback mechanisms involved and what is understood about their time-course and homeostatic limits? In some cases where feedback processes are measurable and causally linked to the outcome, they should be represented as KEs. However, in most cases these features are expected to predominantly influence the shape of the response-response, time-course, behaviours between selected KEs. For example, if a feedback loop acts as compensatory mechanism that aims to restore homeostasis following initial perturbation of a KE, the feedback loop will directly shape the response-response relationship between the KERs. Given interest in formally identifying these positive or negative feedback, it is recommended that a graphical annotation (page 44) indicating a positive or negative feedback loop is involved in a particular upstream to downstream KE transition (KER) be added to the graphical representation, and that details be provided in this subsection of the KER description (see pages 44-45 of the User Handbook).  More help

Domain of Applicability

As for the KEs, there is also a free-text section of the KER description that the developer can use to explain his/her rationale for the structured terms selected with regard to taxonomic, life stage, or sex applicability, or provide a more generalizable or nuanced description of the applicability domain than may be feasible using standardized terms. More help

Synaptic transmission and plasticity are achieved via mechanisms common across taxonomies. LTP has been recorded in aplysia, lizards, turtles, birds, mice, guinea pigs, rabbits and rats. Deficiencies in hippocampally based learning and memory following developmental hypothyroidism have been documented mainly in rodents and humans.


List of the literature that was cited for this KER description using the appropriate format. Ideally, the list of references should conform, to the extent possible, with the OECD Style Guide (OECD, 2015). More help

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Cardenas A, Rifas-Shiman SL, Agha G, Hivert MF, Litonjua AA, DeMeo DL, Lin X, Amarasiriwardena CJ, Oken E, Gillman MW, Baccarelli AA., Persistent DNA methylation changes associated with prenatal mercury exposure and cognitive performance during childhood., Sci Rep. 2017 Mar 21;7(1):288. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-00384-5.

Cohn J, Cory-Slechta DA. (1993). Subsensitivity of lead-exposed rats to the accuracy-impairing and rate-altering effects of MK-801 on a multiple schedule of repeated learning and performance. Brain Res. 600: 208-218.

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D'Hooge R, De Deyn PP. (2001). Applications of the Morris water maze in the study of learning and memory. Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 36: 60-90.

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Franco, J. L., et al. (2007). "Lactational exposure to inorganic mercury: evidence of neurotoxic effects." Neurotoxicol Teratol 29(3): 360-367.

Gilbert ME, Kelly ME, Samsam TE, Goodman JH. (2005). Chronic developmental lead exposure reduces neurogenesis in adult rat hippocampus but does not impair spatial learning. Toxicol Sci. 86: 365-374.

Gilbert ME. (2011). Impact of low-level thyroid hormone disruption induced by propylthiouracil on brain development and function. Toxicol Sci 124:432-445.

Gilbert ME, Sanchez-Huerta K, Wood C. (2016). Mild Thyroid Hormone Insufficiency During Development Compromises Activity-Dependent Neuroplasticity in the Hippocampus of Adult Male Rats. Endocrinology 157:774-787.

Gilbert ME, Sui L. (2006). Dose-dependent reductions in spatial learning and synaptic function in the dentate gyrus of adult rats following developmental thyroid hormone insufficiency. Brain Res 1069:10-22.

Glover, C. N., et al. (2009). "Methylmercury speciation influences brain gene expression and behavior in gestationally-exposed mice pups." Toxicol Sci 110(2): 389-400.

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Sahin, D., et al. (2016). "Effects of gestational and lactational exposure to low dose mercury chloride (HgCl2) on behaviour, learning and hearing thresholds in WAG/Rij rats." EXCLI J 15: 391-402.

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Wheeler SM, McLelland VC, Sheard E, McAndrews MP, Rovet JF. (2015). Hippocampal Functioning and Verbal Associative Memory in Adolescents with Congenital Hypothyroidism. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne) 6:163.

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Wu Y, Beland FA1, Fang JL. (2016). Effect of triclosan, triclocarban, 2,2',4,4'-tetrabromodiphenyl ether, and bisphenol A on the iodide uptake, thyroid peroxidase activity, and expression of genes involved in thyroid hormone synthesis. Toxicol In Vitro. Apr;32:310-9.

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