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Sunday, March 13, 2016

More on Adverse Developmental Impacts of Exposure to PBDE Flame Retardants

From the Archives

By Todd Helmus
February 20, 2012

In mice genetically engineered for autism (Rett Syndrome) susceptibility, fertility, birth weight, sociability, learning and long-term memory were all affected.

In January, 2010 we reported on a study by the Center for Children's Environmental Health at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, which found that prenatal exposure to ambient levels of a class of widely-used, flame-retardant chemicals and known endocrine disruptors called polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) had adverse neurodevelopmental effects in young children.

Now, new research directed by Professor Janine LaSalle of the U.C. Davis School of Medicine's Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology has found that:

"...mice genetically engineered to be susceptible to autism-like behaviors that were exposed to a common flame retardant were less fertile and their offspring were smaller, less sociable and demonstrated marked deficits in learning and long-term memory when compared with the offspring of normal unexposed mice."

The U.C. Davis team studied the offspring of mice genetically engineered for the autism phenotype found in Rett Syndrome, a disorder that causes regression in expressive language, motor skills and social reciprocity in late infancy.

Their response points to the role environmental exposures may play in the triggering of autism and related disorders in genetically-vulnerable individuals.

Their findings, published February 16, 2012 in the journal Human Molecular Genetics, were also presented on February 18th at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. LaSalle's is said to be the first study to link genetics and epigenetics with exposure to a flame retardant chemical.


LaSalle and her colleagues from the U.C. Davis MIND Institute examined the effects of the chemical BDE-47 (Tetrabromodiphenyl ether), a member of the class of flame retardants called polybrominated diphenylethers, or PBDEs.

Their report notes that:

"PBDEs have been used in a wide range of products, including electronics, bedding, carpeting and furniture. They persist in the environment and accumulate in living organisms; toxicological testing has found that they may cause liver toxicity, thyroid toxicity and neurodevelopmental toxicity, according to the Environmental Protection Agency."

The special significance of BDE-47 is that it is the PBDE found at highest concentrations in human blood and breast milk, raising concerns about its potential neurotoxic effects during pregnancy and neonatal development.

LaSalle said that the study results are important because better understanding of the epigenetic pathways implicated in social behavior and cognition may lead to improved treatments for autism spectrum disorders.

"While the obvious preventative step is to limit the use and accumulation of PBDEs in our environment, this would likely be a long-term solution," LaSalle said. "These pollutants are going to be hard to get rid of tomorrow."

Read more about this research HERE.

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