Lifelong Exposure to a Low-Dose of the Glyphosate-Based Herbicide RoundUp® Causes Intestinal Damage, Gut Dysbiosis, and Behavioural Changes in Mice

Ingrid Del Castilo et al.

RoundUp® (RUp) is a commercial formulation containing glyphosate (N-(phosphono-methyl) glycine), and is the world’s leading wide-spectrum herbicide used in agriculture. Supporters of the broad use of glyphosate-based herbicides (GBH) claim they are innocuous to humans, since the active compound acts on the inhibition of enzymes which are absent in human cells. However, the neurotoxic effects of GBH have already been shown in many animal models. Further, these formulations were shown to disrupt the microbiome of different species. Here, we investigated the effects of a lifelong exposure to low doses of the GBH-RUp on the gut environment, including morphological and microbiome changes. We also aimed to determine whether exposure to GBH-RUp could harm the developing brain and lead to behavioral changes in adult mice. To this end, animals were exposed to GBH-RUp in drinking water from pregnancy to adulthood. GBH-RUp-exposed mice had no changes in cognitive function, but developed impaired social behavior and increased repetitive behavior. GBH-Rup-exposed mice also showed an activation of phagocytic cells (Iba-1–positive) in the cortical brain tissue. GBH-RUp exposure caused increased mucus production and the infiltration of plama cells (CD138-positive), with a reduction in phagocytic cells. Long-term exposure to GBH-RUp also induced changes in intestinal integrity, as demonstrated by the altered expression of tight junction effector proteins (ZO-1 and ZO-2) and a change in the distribution of syndecan-1 proteoglycan. The herbicide also led to changes in the gut microbiome composition, which is also crucial for the establishment of the intestinal barrier. Altogether, our findings suggest that long-term GBH-RUp exposure leads to morphological and functional changes in the gut, which correlate with behavioral changes that are similar to those observed in patients with neurodevelopmental disorders.

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