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Exposure to PCBs in early life may increase autism risk for children

Two new publications from the EPA/NIEHS Children’s Center at UC Davis report that PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) can disrupt early brain development by hijacking the signals that promote normal neuron branching – a crucial step needed for information flow in the brain. This shows the developing brain’s vulnerability to environmental exposures and demonstrates how PCBs could add to autism risk in genetically susceptible children. While neither genetics nor environmental factors alone may lead to autism, the combination could lead to autism. The research also pinpoints potential targets for preventing or treating abnormal brain development and reveals and at concentrations of PCB 95 that could likely be found in human diet and in human tissues, including the placenta and breast milk. Both studies focused on neurons from the hippocampus, a brain region critical to learning and memory and known to suffer impaired connectivity in many neurodevelopmental disorders. The studies focused on a type of chemicals called “non-dioxin-like” PCBs, which had been widely used in electrical equipment and while they were banned in the 1970s, PCBs are stable compounds that persist throughout the environment today. These are the first studies to show that non dioxin-like PCBs can disrupt the wiring of the developing brain.

For more information:

Press Release from UC Davis
Research shows how PCBs promote dendrite growth, may increase autism risk exit EPA

Centers Funded By:
Centers Funded by Epa and NIEHS

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