The toxicological literature is replete with studies which have attempted to correlate differences in in vivo sensitivity to anticholinesterases with a common in vitro measure: acetylcholinesterase (AChE) IC50 values. Generally, it is assumed that these IC50 values reflect the intrinsic sensitivity of the AChE molecule to the inhibitor. Our goal was to ascertain whether differences in AChE sensitivity to an organophosphate (i.e., IC50 values) are due to varying properties of the enzyme molecule (i.e., present assumption) or to extrinsic factors. Tissue samples were obtained from immature and adult Long-Evans rats. AChE IC50 values were determined by incubating tissue homogenates with chlorpyrifos-oxon (active metabolite of chlorpyrifos, a common organophosphate insecticide) for 30 min at 26°C, and then measuring residual AChE activity. The following IC50 values were noted for postnatal day 4 and adult animals, respectively: brain, 10 nM for both ages; liver, 96 and 527 nM; plasma, 18 and 326 nM. Thus, the 'apparent' sensitivity of AChE was prone to vary dramatically with age and tissue type. In contrast, when AChE was isolated from the same tissues by immunoprecipitation, there were no age- or tissue-related differences (IC50 ~ 3 nM in every case). These data show clearly that IC50 values from a crude homogenate do not measure the true sensitivity of AChE to the inhibitor. Presumably, for chlorpyrifos-oxon, at least, the tissue 1C50 values depend greatly on a tissue's propensity to sequester or hydrolyze chlorpyrifos-oxon.
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