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March 10, 2015

Rowan, Rutgers study links BPA exposure to autism

A new study has reported a link between bisphenol-A (BPA), a common plasticizer used in a variety of consumer food and beverage containers, and autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in children. 

BPA is not metabolized well in children with ASD, according to the study conducted by researchers at Rowan University School of Osteopathic Medicine (RowanSOM) and Rutgers New Jersey Medical School (NJMS)

“It has been suspected for a lot of years that BPA is involved in autism, but there was no direct evidence,” said T. Peter Stein, of RowanSOM and the study’s lead author. “We’ve shown there is a link. The metabolism of BPA is different in some children with autism than it is in otherwise healthy children.”

Through a process called glucuronidation, BPA becomes water soluble when it is bound to glucose in the liver. Toxins are removed from the body when BPA is converted to glucuronide and excreted through the urine.

Urine specimens from 46 children with ASD and 52 healthy control children were examined for both free BPA and total BPA concentrations. RowanSOM's Margaret Schluter and Robert Steer were responsible for laboratory analysis, while child neurologist Xue Ming of NJMS recruited the study populations. 

The researchers also screened for all the chemicals found in the children’s urine. The metabolomics analyses showed that the ASD group had greater correlations between metabolites detected and total or fraction BPA than the controls.

“Other studies involving rodent data have shown that BPA functions as an endocrine disruptor, but ours is the first to show this in humans and the first to associate it to autism,” Stein said. “The observations show that for some children there was a relationship between intermediary metabolism, the ability to conjugate BPA and symptoms of autism.”

Although the study involves a relatively small number of subjects, Stein said the apparent link between autism and BPA suggests the opportunity for further research.

"One implication of our study is that there might be a benefit to reducing BPA exposure for pregnant women and for children with autism,” he said.

Grants from the New Jersey Governor’s Council for Medical Research and Treatment of Autism and the National Institutes of Health, as well as a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense, were used to fund the research.

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