Neurotoxicology and Teratology

Volume 65, January–February 2018, Pages 1-13
Neurotoxicology and Teratology

Full length article
Neuropsychological functioning in military pesticide applicators from the Gulf War: Effects on information processing speed, attention and visual memory


Gulf War Veterans (GWV) were exposed to pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills during the war.

We compared cognitive and mood functioning in GWV who were pesticide applicators or non-applicators during the war.

GWV with high pesticide/PB exposures had slower information processing, worse visual memory and increased mood complaints.

Specific pesticides also contributed independently to poorer cognitive and mood outcomes.


1991 Gulf War (GW) veterans continue to experience debilitating cognitive and mood problems more than two decades following their return from deployment. Suspected causes for these cognitive complaints include additive and/or synergistic effects of the varying combinations of exposures to chemicals in theater, including pesticides and pyridostigmine bromide (PB) pills. This study was undertaken to address one of the key recommendations of the US Department of Defense Environmental Exposure Report on Pesticides, which was to conduct an epidemiological study to further evaluate the role of neurotoxicant exposures in the expression of central nervous system symptoms reported by GW veterans. This study evaluated the role of pesticides and/or PB in the development of chronic neuropsychological dysfunction in GW veterans. We examined the associations between self-reported measures of pesticide and PB exposures and performance on neuropsychological tests in a group of 159 GW-deployed preventative medicine personnel who had varying levels of pesticide exposures during their work as pesticide applicators or other preventative medicine roles. These veterans had a unique knowledge of pesticides and their usage during the war. It was hypothesized that pesticide applicator personnel with higher exposures would perform significantly worse on objective cognitive measures than lower-exposed personnel and that multiple chemical exposures (pesticide and PB) would further diminish cognitive functioning and increase mood complaints. Study results showed that the participants with both high pesticide and high PB exposure performed worse on specific measures than the groups with high single exposures or low exposures to both toxicants. High combined exposure was associated with significantly slower information processing reaction times, attentional errors, worse visual memory functioning, and increased mood complaints. In addition, stepwise regression analyses of individual pesticide exposures found that pest strip exposure was associated with slower reaction times and attentional errors, and that fly bait and delouser exposures predicted greater mood complaints.


Gulf War
Pyridostigmine bromide
Neuropsychological functioning
Pesticide applicator