Exposure to low levels of BPA during pregnancy can lead to altered brain development

March 17, 2018, The Endocrine Society
3D chemical structure of bisphenol A. Credit: Edgar181 via Wikimedia Commons

New research in mice provides an explanation for how exposure to the widely used chemical bisphenol A (BPA) during pregnancy, even at levels lower than the regulated "safe" human exposure level, can lead to altered brain development and behavior later in life. The research will be presented Monday, March 19 at ENDO 2018, the 100th annual meeting of the Endocrine Society in Chicago, Ill.

BPA is a that is added to many commercial products, including water bottles, paper receipts, can liners and storage containers. It is known as an endocrine-disrupting chemical—a chemical that interferes with the body's hormones.

"Decades of research in over 1,000 animal and 100 human epidemiological studies have demonstrated a link between BPA and adverse health outcomes," said lead researcher Deborah Kurrasch, Ph.D., Associate Professor at the University of Calgary in Calgary, Canada. "This is especially true for the developing , which is particularly sensitive to the estrogen-promoting effects of BPA during gestation. Indeed, several human studies have now correlated early life BPA exposure with behavioral problems later in childhood, suggesting BPA permanently alters brain development that leads to lasting effects on neural functioning."

Governmental agencies around the world, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Health Canada, and European Food Safety Authority, declare BPA to be safe. "One reason for this disparity is the absence of a smoking gun: if BPA is so toxic to developing brains, then where is the evidence of defective brains?" Kurrasch said. "Our study is the first to use environmentally relevant doses of BPA and show exposure to the chemical during can affect the timing of the birth of nerve cells, or neurons."

The researchers studied three groups of pregnant mice. One group ate food without BPA; a second group at food with high doses of BPA; and a third ate low-dose BPA food. They found an increase in the number of neurons created during early development in mouse pups exposed to high and low doses of BPA during pregnancy, compared with those not exposed to BPA.

"This is important because specific neurons are known to be born at a very distinct time points, and if they are born early—as is the case here—then presumably these early neurons will migrate to the wrong place and form the wrong connections. These findings start to provide a rationale as to how BPA might affect developing brains," Kurrasch said.

Siblings to these pups were given behavioral tests to assess whether the early birth of neurons led to changes that affected brain function later in life. The researchers found mice that were exposed to BPA-high and BPA-low food during gestation exhibited some behaviors that match those observed in human children whose mothers had high levels of BPA during pregnancy. "These findings suggest that gestational exposure to BPA can lead to lasting and permanent changes in the brain," Kurrasch said.

"The public is becoming well educated on the debate surrounding BPA safety, as well as other chemicals," she noted. "Although there is still work to be done to translate these rodent effects to human pregnancy, this research could provide expectant mothers with important information on what to avoid to best protect their babies."

Explore further: BPA and BPS affect embryonic brain development in zebrafish

Related Stories

BPA and BPS affect embryonic brain development in zebrafish

January 12, 2015
Bisphenol A, known as BPA, is produced in massive quantities around the world for use in consumer products, including household plastics. In response to public concerns, many manufacturers have replaced BPA with a chemical ...

Exposure to BPA substitute causes hyperactivity and brain changes in fish

June 23, 2014
A chemical found in many "BPA free" consumer products, known as bisphenol S (BPS), is just as potent as bisphenol A (BPA) in altering brain development and causing hyperactive behavior, an animal study finds. The results ...

Prenatal exposure to plasticizer may affect male fertility in future generations

March 17, 2018
Chemicals found in a variety of routinely used consumer products may be contributing to the substantial drop in sperm counts and sperm quality among men in recent decades, a new study in mice suggests.

Prenatal bisphenol A exposure weakens body's fullness cues

February 7, 2017
An expectant mother's exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A (BPA) can raise her offspring's risk of obesity by reducing sensitivity to a hormone responsible for controlling appetite, according to a mouse ...

Bisphenol A in low doses can affect the reproductive system and behaviour

April 19, 2016
If rats are exposed to bisphenol A in low doses during early development it can lead to reduced sperm count, obesity and changes to breast development and behaviour. These are some of the findings of a new study from the ...

BPA exposure during pregnancy linked to mothers' future diabetes risk

April 1, 2015
Exposure to the endocrine-disrupting chemical bisphenol A during pregnancy may raise a mother's susceptibility to weight gain and diabetes later in life, according to a new animal study published in the Endocrine Society's ...

Recommended for you

Receiving genetic information can change risk

December 11, 2018
Millions of people in the United States alone have submitted their DNA for analysis and received information that not only predicts their risk for disease but, it turns out, in some cases might also have influenced that risk, ...

Yes please to yoghurt and cheese: The new improved Mediterranean diet

December 11, 2018
Thousands of Australians can take heart as new research from the University of South Australia shows a dairy-enhanced Mediterranean diet will significantly increase health outcomes for those at risk of cardiovascular disease ...

Effect of oral alfacalcidol on clinical outcomes in patients without secondary hyperparathyroidism

December 11, 2018
Treatment with active vitamin D did not decrease cardiovascular events in kidney patients undergoing hemodialysis, according to a research group in Japan. They have reported their research results in the December 11 issue ...

Licence to Swill: James Bond's drinking over six decades

December 10, 2018
He may be licensed to kill but fictional British secret service agent James Bond has a severe alcohol use disorder, according to an analysis of his drinking behaviour published in the Medical Journal of Australia's Christmas ...

Obesity, risk of cognitive dysfunction? Consider high-intensity interval exercise

December 10, 2018
It's fast-paced, takes less time to do, and burns a lot of calories. High-intensity interval exercise is widely recognized as the most time-efficient and effective way to exercise. In a first-of-its-kind study, researchers ...

How to survive on 'Game of Thrones': Switch allegiances

December 9, 2018
Characters in the Game of Thrones TV series are more likely to die if they do not switch allegiance, and are male, according to an article published in the open access journal Injury Epidemiology.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.