For the first time, scientists have reported that the environment and genetics can work together to create autism-like symptoms in mice exposed in the womb to a flame retardant. The female mice — born to mothers that are genetically more susceptible to develop autistic behaviors — were less social and had impaired memories and learning skills after their mothers were exposed to a brominated compound known as a PBDE.
A mother’s exposure to a flame retardant before, during and after pregnancy interacted with a known genetic mutation to impair learning and memory and decrease social behaviors in her offspring, a study with mice has found. Female mice were more sensitive to the exposure, which altered the on/off switches in the epigenetic code.
This is the first study to link genetic, epigenetic and behavioral changes to a flame retardant chemical in females with a high genetic risk for autism spectrum disorders. The study is important because it focused on a specific gene mutation linked to Rett’s syndrome – a condition on the autism spectrum that primarily affects females.