Autism Linked to PBDE Fire Retardant Chemical on Furniture, Carpets

Scientists have uncovered another link between autism/autistic behaviors and toxic chemicals common in household environments.  More specifically, a recent animal study demonstrated that adult subjects exposed to PBDEs pass on these neuroendocrine-disrupting chemicals to their developing offspring. Further, the female offspring show traits relevant to autism spectrum disorders. 

What are PBDE chemicals?

Polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PBDEs, are a class of fire-retardant chemicals that are ubiquitous. They are found on upholstery, carpets, curtains, electronics, and even infant products. Flame retardants migrate out of products into dust that humans contact and can ingest. Considered to be global environmental pollutants, they have been detected in water, soil, air, food products, animals, and human tissues. PBDE chemicals have also been discovered in breast milk of women from all over the world.

Study results overview

Researchers have found that when female mice exposed to PBDEs pass on these neuroendocrine-disrupting chemicals to their developing offspring, the female offspring show traits relevant to autism spectrum disorders, or ASD. Their short-term social-recognition ability and long-term social memory is reduced significantly and the offspring show exaggerated “marble burying” behavior — repetitive behavior reminiscent of human compulsive behavior, a core symptom of ASD.

“Our data support a link between maternal toxicant exposures and abnormal social and repetitive behavior in mice offspring that is relevant to ASD.”

-Dr. Margarita Curras-Collazo, lead researcher and professor of neuroscience, University of California, Riverside

The research team also found that the female offspring’s olfactory — or smell — discrimination of social odors is significantly compromised.

Study overview

Researchers exposed mother mice orally to flame retardants; their offspring acquired PBDEs in their brains through blood during gestation and mother’s milk during lactation. They then measured social and repetitive behavior and olfactory discrimination in female offspring in adulthood.

Next, the researchers examined the brains of the offspring, specifically, gene expression for oxytocin, a neuropeptide involved in social recognition memory. They found that oxytocin and other pro-social genes had undergone changes, suggesting that PBDEs target distinct brain systems to promote neurodevelopmental abnormalities.

Take away

“Consumers need to be aware they are being exposed to chemicals like PBDEs,. You cannot avoid these chemicals since they are added to many indoor products in the home, school, car and airplane. To avoid them you can buy PBDE-free furniture or cover the foam in your furniture, choose less contaminated foods, and vacuum and mop frequently to remove PBDE-contaminated dust. It’s crucial that we understand that these chemicals are present in our bodies and what they are doing.”

-Dr. Margarita Curras-Collazo

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→ For more information on the scientific findings of the adverse health effects from PBDE chemicals, go to our BLOG.  Scroll down to the bottom of any page on the blog to reach the Search Box at the bottom of the page, and enter “PBDE” or “Fire Retardant chemicals” into the Search Box.  The same process can be done for learning which chemicals in our food, products and environment have been linked to autism.


Journal Reference:  Elena V. Kozlova, Matthew C. Valdez, Maximillian E. Denys, Anthony E. Bishay, Julia M. Krum, Kayhon M. Rabbani, Valeria Carrillo, Gwendolyn M. Gonzalez, Gregory Lampel, Jasmin D. Tran, Brigitte M. Vazquez, Laura M. Anchondo, Syed A. Uddin, Nicole M. Huffman, Eduardo Monarrez, Duraan S. Olomi, Bhuvaneswari D. Chinthirla, Richard E. Hartman, Prasada Rao S. Kodavanti, Gladys Chompre, Allison L. Phillips, Heather M. Stapleton, Bernhard Henkelmann, Karl-Werner Schramm, Margarita C. Curras-Collazo. Persistent autism-relevant behavioral phenotype and social neuropeptide alterations in female mice offspring induced by maternal transfer of PBDE congeners in the commercial mixture DE-71. Archives of Toxicology, 2021; DOI: 10.1007/s00204-021-03163-4


Eric