Epigenetics and toxins are subjects of ever-increasing research and findings demonstrating harms to offspring, especially when a fetus is exposed to a toxin while in utero. In short, the timing of exposure can really matter. A new study is the first to link genetics and epigenetics with exposure to a flame retardant chemical. In short, the exposure of mother mice can result in harms in offspring. A possible human analog involves clear cell vaginal cancers suffered by "DES daughters and grand-daughters" after DES was consumed during pregnancy by a mother or
On the flame retardant, set out below are key excerpts from ScienceDaily's
summary of the new research paper and related press release materials:
"The research was published online February 16 in the journal Human Molecular Genetics. It will be presented during a symposium on Feb. 18, at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) by Janine LaSalle, a professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology in the UC Davis School of Medicine and the UC Davis Genome Center.
"This study highlights the interaction between epigenetics and the effects of early exposure to flame retardants," said Janine LaSalle, the study's senior author and a researcher affiliated with the UC Davis MIND Institute. "Our experiments with wild-type and mutant mice indicate that exposure to flame retardants presents an independent risk of neurodevelopmental deficits associated with reduced sociability and learning."
Epigenetics describes the heritable changes in gene expression caused by mechanisms other than those in the DNA sequence. One such mechanism is DNA methylation, in which genes are silenced when their activation no longer is required. DNA methylation is essential for normal development. The researchers chose a mouse that was genetically and epigenetically susceptible to social behavioral deficits in order to understand the potential effect of this environmental pollutant on genetically susceptible humans.
LaSalle and her colleagues examined the effects of the chemical BDE-47 (Tetrabromodiphenl ether), a member of the class of flame retardants called polybrominated diphenylethers, or PBDEs. PBDEs have been used in a wide range of products, including electronics, bedding, carpeting and furniture. They have been shown to persist in the environment and accumulate in living organisms, and toxicological testing has found that they may cause liver toxicity, thyroid toxicity and neurodevelopmental toxicity, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. BDE-47 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.
Rett syndrome is causally linked to defects in the methyl-CpG-binding protein 2 gene MECP2 situated on the X chromosome. Mutations in MECP2 result in a nonfunctional MeCP2 protein, which is required for normal brain development. The researchers evaluated the effects of exposure to BDE-47 on mice genetically engineered to have mutations in MECP2 and their offspring, or pups. The genetically engineered Mecp2 mother mice, or dams, were bred with non-mutant wild-type males. The dams were monitored for 10 weeks -- for four weeks prior to conception, three weeks during gestation and three weeks of lactation. They were then compared with a control group of normal, unexposed dams and pups over several generations and hundreds of mice.
The study found that that the weights of the pups of the lactating BDE-47-exposed dams were diminished when compared with the controls, as were their survival rates. To assess the effects of the flame retardant exposure on the pups and their genotypes, the researchers placed them through more than 10 cognitive, social and physical tests."