Feb 26 2013, 10:58am CST | by Luigi Lugmayr
Washington, Feb 26 — Bisphenol A (BPA), a compound present in plastics and resins, may suppress a gene vital to nerve cell function and impair the growth of the central nervous system, says a new study.
The chemical can be ingested if it seeps into the contents of food and beverage containers, according to medical researchers from Duke University.
"Our study found that BPA may impair the development of the central nervous system and raises the question as to whether exposure could predispose animals and humans to neuro-developmental disorders," said Wolfgang Liedtke, associate professor of medicine, neurology and neurobiology at Duke, who led the study.
BPA, a molecule that mimics estrogen and interferes with the body's endocrine system, can be found in a wide variety of manufactured products, including thermal printer paper, some plastic water bottles and the lining of metal cans, the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports.
Research in animals has raised concerns that exposure to BPA may cause health problems such as behavioural issues, endocrine and reproductive disorders, obesity, cancer and immune system disorders, according to a Duke statement.
Some studies suggest that infants and young children may be the most vulnerable to the effects of BPA, which led the US Food and Drug Administration to ban the use of the chemical in baby bottles and cups in July 2012.
While BPA has been shown to affect the developing nervous system, little is understood as to how this occurs. The research team developed a series of experiments in rodent and human nerve cells to learn how BPA induces changes that disrupt gene regulation.
Exposing neurons to minute amounts of BPA alters the chloride levels inside the cells by somehow shutting down the KCC2 gene, which makes the KCC2 protein, thereby delaying the removal of chloride from neurons.
MECP2, another protein important for normal brain function, was found to be a possible culprit behind this change. When exposed to BPA, MECP2 is more abundant and binds to the KCC2 gene at a higher rate, which might help to shut it down. This could trigger problems in the developing brain due to a delay in chloride removal.
"Our findings improve our understanding of how environmental exposure to BPA can affect the regulation of the KCC2 gene," Liedtke said.
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