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Obituary for Prof. Helena Rašková, MD., DSc., Dr.h.c. *2 January, 1913 †13 April, 2010

Professor Rašková had been a member, and after her retirement, an honorary member of a number of scientific societies and editorial boards in Slovakia as well as abroad. To provide a list of all decorations and honours given to Professor Rašková would take a lot of space. Of them, let us mention only that she had been decorated with the Finnish Sibelius Medal, the French medal of the of Académie de Lutec, the Gold Medal of European Pharmacological Societies for her contributions to the development of world pharmacology, as well as all the decorations obtained from the Slovak Academy of Sciences: Gold Medal of the Slovak Academy of Sciences, Honourable Gold Medal of the Slovak Academy of Sciences for her contributions to biological sciences, and the Memorable Medal of the Slovak Academy of Sciences. Professor Rašková was an honorary member of the Learned Society of the Slovak Academy of Sciences

Important issues in developmental toxicity testing

Studies of individual development and its possible deterioration have been the concern since the 19th century, when Etienne Geoffroy de Saint-Hilaire (1772-1844) with his pioneer experiments opened the door for future experimental teratologists. Later scientists, focused on environmental agents which can alter embryonic and fetal development, such hyperthermia, malnutrition, pharmaceuticals, microbial toxins etc. Although the history of teratology involves many notable scientists, it has gained prominence after the big thalidomide tragedy in 1961. Principles of teratology were proposed later by James Wilson in his monograph Environment and Birth Defects (Wilson, 1973).

Developmental origin of chronic diseases: toxicological implication

Human epidemiological and experimental animal studies show that suboptimal environments in fetal and neonatal life exerts a profound influence on physiological function and risk of disease in adult life. The molecular, cellular, metabolic, endocrine and physiological adaptations to intrauterine nutritional conditions result in permanent alterations of cellular proliferation and differentiation of tissues and organ systems, which in turn can manifest by pathological consequences or increased vulnerability to chronic diseases in adulthood. Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) due to intrauterine development derangements is considered the important factor in development of such diseases as essential hypertension, diabetes mellitus, ischemic diseases of the heart, osteoporosis, respiratory, neuropsychiatric and immune system diseases.

An early life exposures to dietary and environmental exposures can have a important effect on epigenetic code, resulting in diseases developed later in life. The concept of the "developmental programming" and Developmental Origins of Adult Diseases (DOHaD) has become well accepted because of the compelling animal studies that have precisely defined the outcomes of specific exposures. The environmental pollullutants and other chemical toxicants may influence crucial cellular functions during critical periods of fetal development and permanently alter the structure or function of specific organ systems. Developmental epigenetics is believed to establish "adaptive" phenotypes to meet the demands of the later-life environment. Resulting phenotypes that match predicted later-life demands will promote health, while a high degree of mismatch will impede adaptability to later-life challenges and elevate disease risk. The rapid introduction of synthetic chemicals, environmental pollutants and medical interventions, may result in conflict with the programmed adaptive changes made during early development, and explain the alarming increases in some diseases.

Experimental modeling of hypoxia in pregnancy and early postnatal life

The important role of equilibrium of environmental factors during the embryo-fetal period is undisputable. Women of reproductive age are increasingly exposed to various environmental risk factors such as hypoxia, prenatal viral infections, use of drugs, smoking, complications of birth or stressful life events. These early hazards represent an important risk for structural and/or functional maldevelopment of the fetus and neonates. Impairment of oxygen/energy supply during the pre- and perinatal period may affect neuronal functions and induce cell death. Thus when death of the newborn is not occurring following intrauterine hypoxia, various neurological deficits, including hyperactivity, learning disabilities, mental retardation, epilepsy, cerebral palsy, dystonia etc., may develop both in humans and in experimental animals. In our animal studies we used several approaches for modeling hypoxia in rats during pregnancy and shortly after delivery, i.e. chronic intrauterine hypoxia induced by the antiepileptic drug phenytoin, neonatal anoxia by decreased oxygen saturation in 2-day-old pups. Using these models we were able to test potential protective properties of natural (vitamin E, melatonin) and synthetic (stobadine) compounds. Based on our results, stobadine was also able to reduce hypoxia-induced hyperactivity and the antioxidant capacity of stobadine exceeded that of vitamin E and melatonin, and contrary to vitamin E, stobadine had no adverse effects on developing fetus and offspring.


Reactive oxygen species has been implicated to contribute significantly to tissue injury associated with ulcerative colitis. Thus compounds with antioxidant properties could be potential therapeutic agents in this disease. Flavonoid compounds are known to possess antioxidative and antiinflammatory properties. Two derivatives of the flavonoid quercetin (Q), chloronaphthoquinone quercetin (CNC) and monochloropivaloyl quercetin (MCP), showed improved antioxidant properties and moreover, they efficiently inhibited aldose reductase activity in vitro. The aim of the work was to test the potential efficacy of quercetin and these synthetic derivatives in vivo in prevention of intestinal inflammation during ulcerative colitis in rats. Colitis was induced by intracolonic administration of acetic acid (4% solution). The control group received the same volume of saline. The vehicle dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) and the drugs Q, CNC or MCP were administered orally two hours and then one hour before the acetic acid or saline instillation. After 48 hours, the animals were sacrificed and the colon was weighed, measured and scored for visible damage. Acetic acid triggered an intense inflammatory response of the colon, characterised by haemorrhage, ulceration and bowel wall thickening. From the drugs tested, only CNC (2 × 50 mg/kg) effectively depressed inflammatory damage of the colon. The mechanism of this beneficial effect remains to be elucidated.

Safety assessment of the pyridoindole derivative SMe1EC2: developmental neurotoxicity study in rats

The present study deals with effect of prenatal and neonatal administration of the synthetic pyridoindole derivative SMe1EC2 (2-ethoxycarbonyl-8-methoxy-2,3,4,4a, 5,9b-hexahydro-1H-pyrido-[4,3b] indolinium chloride) on postnatal and neurobehavioral development of the rat offspring. The substance tested was administered to pregnant rats orally in the doses 5, 50 and 250 mg/kg from day 15 of gestation to day 10 post partum (PP). From the day 4 PP, the postnatal development and neurobehavioral characteritics of offspring were evaluated. The following variables were observed: body weight, pinna detachment, incisor eruption, ear opening, eye opening, testes descent and vaginal opening, righting reflex, negative geotaxia, startle reflex, dynamic air righting and exploratory behavior in a new environment. No maternal death, abortion or dead fetuses occurred either in the control or SMe1EC2 groups. Dynamic righting reflex was delayed one day in the groups of animals treated via their mothers with 5 and 50 mg/kg SMe1EC2. The delay in the development of this reflex was only transient. On day 20 PP, all pups tested had a positive score of the reflex. Administration of SMe1EC2 did not reveal any significant changes in other variables of somatic growth and maturation, reflex and neuromotor development and exploratory behavior, either of young or adult animals of both genders, assessed by analysis of variance.


The aim of the study was to test the hypothesis that the effect of atorvastatin on endothelium-dependent relaxation of the superior mesenteric artery (SMA) may differ in male vs. female aged hypertriglyceridemic rats (HTGs). Experiments were performed on 11-month-old male and female Prague hereditary HTGs. Atorvastatin (ATO) was administered p.o. in the dose of 0.30 mg/100g/day.

Controls received vehiculum. After two months of ATO administration blood pressure, serum triglycerides (TG) and total cholesterol (CHOL) were determined. Endothelial function of SMA was studied in vitro using evaluation of relaxant responses of precontracted SMA to acetylcholine. The serum TG of control male HTGs were found to be statistically higher than those of female controls, while CHOL and blood pressure did not share gender differences. Responses of SMA of female control HTGs were statistically decreased compared to their male counterparts. ATO treatment induced decrease in blood pressure and TG of both males and females, yet CHOL values were reduced only in females. The protective effect of ATO on SMA endothelial function was much more pronounced in females compared to males.

We conclude that vascular endothelial dysfunction of aged HTG rats is more severe and more attenuated by ATO in females compared to males. The protective effect of ATO on vascular endothelial function does not seem to depend solely on its lipid lowering action.

Evaluation of developmental neurotoxicity: some important issues focused on neurobehavioral development

Exposure of the developing organism to industrial chemicals and physical factors represents a serious risk factor for the development of neurobehavioral disorders, such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism and mental retardation. Appropriate animal models are needed to test potentially harmful effects and mechanisms of developmental neurotoxicity of various chemical substances. However, there are significant human vs. rat differences in the brain developmental profile which should be taken into account in neurotoxicity studies. Subtle behavioral alterations are hard to detect by traditional developmental toxicity and teratogenicity studies, and in many cases they remain hidden. They can however be revealed by using special behavioral, endocrine and/or pharmacological challenges, such as repeated behavioral testing, exposure to single stressful stimulus or drugs. Further, current neurobehavioral test protocols recommend to test animals up to their adulthood. However some behavioral alterations, such as anxiety-like behavior or mental deficiency, may become manifest in later periods of development. Our experimental and scientific experiences are highly suggestive for a complex approach in testing potential developmental neurotoxicity. Strong emphasis should be given on repeated behavioral testing of animals up to senescence and on using proper pharmacological and/or stressful challenges.

Chemiluminescence response induced by mesenteric ischaemia/reperfusion: effect of antioxidative compounds ex vivo

Ischaemia and reperfusion (I/R) play an important role in human pathophysiology as they occur in many clinical conditions and are associated with high morbidity and mortality. Interruption of blood supply rapidly damages metabolically active tissues. Restoration of blood flow after a period of ischaemia may further worsen cell injury due to an increased formation of free radicals. The aim of our work was to assess macroscopically the extent of intestinal pathological changes caused by mesenteric I/R, and to study free radical production by luminol enhanced chemiluminescence (CL) of ileal samples. In further experiments, the antioxidative activity of the drugs tested was evaluated spectrophotometrically by the use of the DPPH radical. We studied the potential protective ex vivo effect of the plant origin compound arbutin as well as of the pyridoindole stobadine and its derivative SMe1EC2. I/R induced pronounced haemorrhagic intestinal injury accompanied by increase of myeloperoxidase (MPO) and N-acetyl-β-D-glucosaminidase (NAGA) activity. Compared to sham operated (control) rats, there was only a slight increase of CL response after I/R, probably in association with neutrophil increase, indicated by enhanced MPO activity. All compounds significantly reduced the peak values of CL responses of the ileal samples ex vivo, thus reducing the I/R induced increase of free radical production. The antioxidants studied showed a similar inhibitory effect on the CL response influenced by mesenteric I/R. If proved in vivo, these compounds would represent potentially useful therapeutic antioxidants.


About 3% of pregnant women are treated with antidepressant drugs during gestation. After delivery the number of treated women increases to 5 to 7%. Most prescribed antidepressants in pregnancy are selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors and/or serotonin and noradrenaline re-uptake inhibitors, such as fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline, citalopram and venlafaxine (VENF). Despite the fact that VENF has been assigned to pregnancy category C by the FDA, experimental studies with this drug are rare. The aim of this pilot study was to investigate the effect of prenatal administration of VENF on early postnatal development of rat offspring and selected biochemical variables at weaning of pups. Pregnant female Wistar rats were treated with VENF from day 15 to 20 of gestation at the doses of 7.5, 37.5 and 70 mg/kg. Females were allowed to spontaneously deliver their pups. After delivery the pups were inspected for viability, gross malformation and they were weighed on day 0, 4 and 21 post partum. On day 21 post partum, the pups were killed, brains were removed from the skulls and blood samples were collected for biochemical assay (proteins, glucose-GOD, glucose-HEX, lactate dehydrogenase, aspartate aminotransferase, alanine aminotransferase and total antioxidant status). The study showed that prenatal VENF administration resulted in a mild maternal intoxication manifested by decreased body weight gain of pregnant females. There was no effect of the drug tested on the body and brain weights of offspring. No obvious morphological alterations were observed in the delivered pups. Similarly, there were no changes in the selected biochemical variables determined.