Ammonia causes decreased brain monoamines in fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas)

Patrick J. Ronan, Mark P. Gaikowski, Steven J. Hamilton, Kevin J. Buhl, Cliff H. Summers

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Hyperammonemia, arising from variety of disorders, leads to severe neurological dysfunction. The mechanisms of ammonia toxicity in brain are not completely understood. This study investigated the effects of ammonia on monoaminergic systems in brains of fathead minnows (Pimephales promelas). Fish serve as a good model system to investigate hyperammonemic effects on brain function since no liver manipulations are necessary to increase endogenous ammonia concentrations. Using high performance liquid chromatography with electrochemical detection, monoamines and some associated metabolites were measured from whole brain homogenate. Adult males were exposed for 48 h to six different concentrations of ammonia (0.01-2.36 mg/l unionized) which bracketed the 96-h LC50 for this species. Ammonia concentration-dependent decreases were found for the catecholamines (norepinephrine and dopamine) and the indoleamine serotonin (5-HT). After an initial increase in the 5-HT precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan it too decreased with increasing ammonia concentrations. There were also significant increases in the 5-HIAA/5-HT and DOPAC/DA ratios, often used as measures of turnover. There were no changes in epinephrine (Epi) or monoamine catabolites (DOPAC, 5-HIAA) at any ammonia concentrations tested. Results suggest that ammonia causes decreased synthesis while also causing increased release and degradation. Increased release may underlie behavioral reactions to ammonia exposure in fish. This study adds weight to a growing body of evidence demonstrating that ammonia leads to dysfunctional monoaminergic systems in brain which may underlie neurological symptoms associated with human disorders such as hepatic encephalopathy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)184-191
Number of pages8
JournalBrain Research
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 25 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Dopamine
  • Epinephrine
  • Fish
  • Norepinephrine
  • Serotonin

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Molecular Biology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Developmental Biology


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