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Environ Health Perspect. 2008 Jun;116(6):716-22. doi: 10.1289/ehp.11253.

Developmental neurotoxicity of perfluorinated chemicals modeled in vitro.

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Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, North Carolina 27710, USA.



The widespread detection of perfluoroalkyl acids and their derivatives in wildlife and humans, and their entry into the immature brain, raise increasing concern about whether these agents might be developmental neurotoxicants.


We evaluated perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorooctane sulfonamide (PFOSA), and perfluorobutane sulfonate (PFBS) in undifferentiated and differentiating PC12 cells, a neuronotypic line used to characterize neurotoxicity.


We assessed inhibition of DNA synthesis, deficits in cell numbers and growth, oxidative stress, reduced cell viability, and shifts in differentiation toward or away from the dopamine (DA) and acetylcholine (ACh) neurotransmitter phenotypes.


In general, the rank order of adverse effects was PFOSA > PFOS > PFBS approximately PFOA. However, superimposed on this scheme, the various agents differed in their underlying mechanisms and specific outcomes. Notably, PFOS promoted differentiation into the ACh phenotype at the expense of the DA phenotype, PFBS suppressed differentiation of both phenotypes, PFOSA enhanced differentiation of both, and PFOA had little or no effect on phenotypic specification.


These findings indicate that all perfluorinated chemicals are not the same in their impact on neurodevelopment and that it is unlikely that there is one simple, shared mechanism by which they all produce their effects. Our results reinforce the potential for in vitro models to aid in the rapid and cost-effective screening for comparative effects among different chemicals in the same class and in relation to known developmental neurotoxicants.


PC12 cells; developmental neurotoxicity; perfluorinated chemicals; perfluoroalkyl acids; perfluorobutane sulfonate; perfluorooctane sulfonamide; perfluorooctane sulfonate; perfluorooctanoate; perfluorooctanoic acid

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