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Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. 2013 Mar;99(1):50-60. doi: 10.1002/bdrc.21025.

Arrhenius thermodynamics and birth defects: chemical teratogen synergy. Untested, testable, and projected relevance.

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  • 1University of Rochester Medical Center, School of Medicine and Dentistry, Department of Obstetrics & Gynecology, New York, 14642-8668, USA.


This article addresses the issue of hyperthermia-induced birth defects with an accompanying additional teratogen, be it a chemical or a physical agent (i.e., a simultaneous "combinational" exposure to two teratogens, one of which is hyperthermia). Hyperthermia per se is a recognized human and animal teratogen. An excellent example of such combinational exposures is an epileptic woman who becomes pregnant while taking valproic acid (VPA) to control seizures. VPA is a recognized chemical teratogen, and fever (hyperthermia) is not an uncommon event during pregnancy. While VPA also may occasionally induce fever as a side effect, we are concerned here with fevers arising from other, unrelated causes. There is a small but internally consistent literature on these combinational-teratogen exposures involving hyperthermia plus a chemical teratogen; in each instance, the effect level has been observed to be synergistically elevated above levels induced by the separate teratogenic components. The data were empirical. The observed synergy is, however, consistent with Arrhenius thermodynamics, a well-known chemical rate equation. The need for information about combinational teratogen exposures is acute; fever is a common occurrence during pregnancy; and there are many instances whereby there is also the simultaneous presence of some other teratogen(s). Given that the rate of autism spectrum disorders in the United States was recently presented as 1 in 88 births, it seems reasonable to suspect that such combinational regimens are much more prevalent than previously thought. Our hypothesis is that synergistic birth defect levels from combinational regimens are consistent with Arrhenius thermodynamics.

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