Michael Aschner and Tore Syversen
Neurotoxicology is an exciting area of science, not only because of the importance of toxic injury to the nervous system in human disease, but also because specific toxicants have served as invaluable tools for the advancement of our knowledge of “normal” neurobiological processes. In fact, much of our understanding of the organisation and function of the nervous system is based on observations derived from the actions of neurotoxicants. This paper addresses various physiological aspects behind the exquisite sensitivity of the nervous system to toxic agents, including the privileged status of the nervous system visà-vis blood-brain barrier function, the extensions of the nervous system over space and the requirements of cells with such a complex geometry, and the transmission of information across extracellular space. In addition, in vitro models and their utility in the assessment of neurotoxicological outcome are discussed, with reference to both their advantages and disadvantages.
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