Since the Bhopal disaster, in which the causal agent was methyl isocyanate (MIC), exposed people have complained of various disorders including neuromuscular dysfunction. In an attempt to gain some information about the response of muscle tissue to MIC its effects were investigated in cells in culture isolated from muscle of 2 day old rats. After treatment with a range of MIC concentrations (0.025-0.5 microliter/5 ml culture) the total number of nuclei of the two main cell types (fibroblasts and myoblasts) and the number of nuclei in muscle fibres (myotubes) were recorded. At lower doses which had little effect on the total number of nuclei, the formation of muscle fibres--that is, fusion of muscle cells--was prevented as the proportion of nuclei in myotubes was decreased. At higher doses both cell types were killed. This would suggest either an effect on muscle differentiation or a selective toxicity towards myoblasts. The observations were supported by light and electron microscopy.
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