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Toxicology. 2017 Sep 1;390:32-42. doi: 10.1016/j.tox.2017.08.009. Epub 2017 Aug 26.

Brominated and organophosphate flame retardants target different neurodevelopmental stages, characterized with embryonic neural stem cells and neuronotypic PC12 cells.

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Department of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA. Electronic address:
Department of Pharmacology & Cancer Biology, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA.
Nicholas School of the Environment, Duke University, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


In addition to their activity as endocrine disruptors, brominated and organophosphate flame retardants are suspected to be developmental neurotoxicants, although identifying their specific mechanisms for that activity has been elusive. In the current study, we evaluated the effects of several flame retardants on neurodifferentiation using two in vitro models that assess distinct "decision nodes" in neural cell development: embryonic rat neural stem cells (NSCs), which evaluate the origination of neurons and glia from precursors, and rat neuronotypic PC12 cells, which characterize a later stage where cells committed to a neuronal phenotype undergo neurite outgrowth and neurotransmitter specification. In NSCs, both brominated and organophosphate flame retardants diverted the phenotype in favor of glia and away from formation of neurons, leading to an increased glia/neuron ratio, a common hallmark of the in vivo effects of neurotoxicants. For this early decision node, the brominated flame retardants were far more potent than the organophosphates. In PC12 cells, the brominated flame retardants were far less effective, whereas tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate, an organophosphate, was more effective. Thus, the two classes of flame retardants differentially impact the two distinct vulnerable periods of neurodifferentiation. Furthermore, the effects on neurodifferentiation were separable from outright cytotoxicity, an important requirement in establishing a specific effect of these agents on neural cell development. These results reinforce the likelihood that flame retardants act as developmental neurotoxicants via direct effects on neural cell differentiation, over and above other activities that can impact nervous system development, such as endocrine disruption.


Brominated flame retardants; Neural stem cells; Neurodifferentiation; Organophosphate flame retardants; PC12 cells

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