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Does perinatal exposure to endocrine disruptors induce autism spectrum and attention deficit hyperactivity disorders? Review


Margot van de Bor, MD, PhD, Department of Health and Life Sciences, Faculty of Earth and Life Sciences, VU University, De Boelelaan 1085, Room T-657, 1081 HV Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
Tel: +31205987226 |


Aim:  To provide an overview of studies on perinatal exposure in humans to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in relation to autism spectrum (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) disorders.

Methods:  A review of the literature (PubMed) was performed. Exposure-related keywords, including various chemicals, were matched with keywords describing outcome. Animal studies as well as publications not written in English were excluded. In total, 834 titles were retrieved. The final selection included 21 publications.

Results:  Positive associations were found for ASD in relation to exposure to all chemicals investigated, which included hazardous air pollutants, pesticides and bisphenol A (BPA). Increased risks of ADHD or positive associations were found for exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), dialkyl phosphate (DAP) and chlorpyrifos. BPA, polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs) and low molecular weight (LMW) phthalates were positively associated with externalizing behaviour. Five of 17 studies did not find any association between exposure and ADHD.

Conclusion:  Perinatal exposure to EDCs appears to be associated with the occurrence of ASD as well as ADHD. Disruption of thyroid hormone function and gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA)ergic mechanisms may offer an explanation for the observed relations; though, conclusive evidence in humans is limited.

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