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Encephale. 2017 Aug;43(4):402-404. doi: 10.1016/j.encep.2016.04.007. Epub 2016 Sep 9.

[Autism spectrum disorders and bisphenol A: Is serotonin the lacking link in the chain?]

[Article in French]

Author information

Physiologie humaine, faculté de médecine et pharmacie, université de Poitiers, BP 199, 6, rue de la Milétrie, bâtiment D1, TSA 51115, 86073 Poitiers cedex 9, France. Electronic address:
Service de pharmacie, pavillon Janet, centre hospitalier Henri-Laborit, 370, avenue Jacques-Cœur, 86021 Poitiers cedex, France.


The etiology of autism spectrum disorders (ASD) is believed to be multifactorial and to involve genetic and environmental components. Environmental chemical exposures are increasingly understood to be important in causing neurotoxicity in fetuses and newborns. Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States suggest a substantial increase in ASD prevalence, only partly explicable by factors such as diagnostic substitution. Bisphenol A (BPA) is an ubiquitous xenoestrogen widely employed in a variety of consumer products including plastic and metal food and beverage containers, dental sealants and fillings, medical equipment and thermal receipts. Therefore, most people are exposed almost continuously to BPA in industrialized countries. Sources of BPA exposure are predominantly diet, but also through inhalation or dermal absorption. BPA can be measured in many human fluids and tissues including saliva, serum, urine, amniotic fluid, follicular fluid, placental tissue and breast milk. There is concern that BPA exposure may influence human brain development and may contribute to the increasing prevalence of neurodevelopmental and behavioural problems. Epigenetic mechanisms are suggested by a mouse study that demonstrated that BPA exposure during gestation had long lasting, transgenerational effects on social recognition. Previous epidemiological studies suggested a relationship between maternal BPA exposure and ASD. A recent study of 46 children with ASD and 52 controls found for the first time a direct association between children with ASD and BPA exposure and demonstrated that BPA is not metabolized well in children with ASD. The metabolomic analyses showed a correlation between ASD and essential amino acid metabolism pathways. Essential amino acids are precursors of neurotransmitters, for example tryptophan for serotonin. Fetal and prenatal BPA exposure was suggested to perturb the serotonergic system in rat and mice models. On the other hand, hyperserotonemia was reported in approximately one-third of autistic patients and also in relatives. Moreover, neuroimaging studies revealed two fundamentally different types of serotonin synthesis abnormality in children with autism compared to age-matched nonautistic children, a difference in whole-brain capacity and focal abnormalities. Finally, decreased serotonin transporter and serotonin receptor binding have been reported in both children and adults with autism. So, the link between BPA and autism could be a defect of the normal in utero or perinatal serotonergic system development. In France, BPA was banned in baby bottles in 2010 and in any food or beverage packaging since January 2015. Therefore, there is an urgent need to find safe alternatives in the use of BPA in the manufacture of industrial products.


Autism spectrum disorders; Bisphenol A; Bisphénol A; Environmental exposure; Exposition environnementale; Neurotoxicity; Neurotoxicité; Serotonin; Sérotonine; Troubles du spectre autistique

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