In a new study, scientists at the University of Missouri show that direct transfer of bisphenol A (BPA) from a mother to her developing baby through the placenta can negatively affect fetal brain development. Sheryl Rosenfeld, MD, professor of biomedical sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine, and her colleagues point out that more attention should be paid to how this temporary organ affects fetal brain development.
“The placenta is only a temporary organ that helps exchange nutrients and waste products between mother and baby during pregnancy, but how the placenta responds to toxic substances like BPA during pregnancy can lead to long-term health consequences,” Rosenfeld said. “We focused on the role of microRNAs within the placenta, which are known to be key mediators in regulating cellular functions, including neural development, and identifying specific markers of cancer.”
Rosenfeld suspects that microRNA plays a role in how the effects of BPA exposure can lead to neurological disorders later in life.
“These microparticles can be encapsulated within extracellular vesicles and can be transported to distant organs within the body,” Rosenfeld said. “We hypothesize that by altering the pattern of microRNAs in the placenta, these small molecules can then reach the brain, leading to adverse effects. Even before neurons are developed in the brain, it may be that these microRNA bundles are actually guiding fetal brain development.” These changes may differ in female fetuses versus male fetuses.”
BPA is used in many household items such as plastic water bottles and food containers, and epoxy coatings for metal food cans. Exposure can occur during the simple process of cooking food in the microwave inside polycarbonate plastic food containers. While recent efforts to make products “BPA-free” have begun, the more than a decade-long debate continues over what are considered safe levels of BPA exposure. Several studies have investigated potential related health consequences, including neurobehavioral disorders, diabetes, obesity, and various reproductive deficiencies.
Rosenfeld believes that microRNAs changes in the placenta can also be used as an early diagnostic biomarker for BPA exposure.
“By establishing the relationship between these microparticles and fetal brain development through exposure to BPA, targeted therapies can eventually be developed to help prevent or reverse some of the adverse effects of exposure to BPA that occur due to these microRNAs,” Rosenfeld said.
Future plans for this work include examining the relationship between the placenta and the brain outside the body through the use of cell culture systems.
This latest discovery continues Rosenfeld’s interest for more than a decade in the effects of BPA exposure. Her recent focus on the relationship between the placenta and the brain could help scientists develop a foundation for an early step in transformative medicine, or research aimed at improving human health by establishing the relevance of animal science discoveries to people.
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