Everyday Cleaning Substances Linked to Rising Neurodevelopmental Disorders

The number of people diagnosed with neurodevelopmental conditions disorders have increased due to modern living conditions. Researchers say that this increase is due to environmental factors which include chemicals found in personal care or household products. Such chemicals known as oligodendrocytes damage brain cells or nerve cells.   Long term exposure to these chemicals might lead to neurological conditions like autism spectrum and multiple sclerosis. 

A study published in Nature says organophosphate flame retardants and quaternary ammonium compounds might have caused damage and death of oligodendrocytes, but the brain cells remained unaffected. Oligodendrocyte production starts during fetal development with most of these cells being made during the first 2 years of life. A mature Oligodendrocyte might be responsible for maintaining and producing myelin sheaths that protect nerve cells and speed up transmission of nerve impulses. oligodendrocytes are a type of glial cells within brain that regulates various vital physiological functions like myelin sheath production 

Researchers generated oligodendrocyte progenitor cells from mouse pluripotent stem cells. Cells were exposed to 1823 different chemicals to analyze whether that affected their ability to develop oligodendrocytes. 80% of chemicals had no effect on oligodendrocyte development. chemicals from 2 groups had adverse effects on oligodendrocytes. Organophosphate flame retardants, which are also found in electronics and furniture, generate oligodendrocytes from OPCs. The researchers are also testing whether chemicals have a similar effect on developing oligodendrocytes within mouse brains. They found that quaternary ammonium compound when given to mice orally crosses the blood brain barrier and builds up in brain tissue. 

The mice also lost oligodendrocyte cells in numerous areas of the brain showing that these chemicals might pose a risk to the developing brain. Post the mouse findings organophosphate flame-retardant tris (1,3-dichloro-2-propyl) phosphate (TDCIPP) on a human cortical organoid model was tested.  These chemicals reduce the number of mature oligodendrocytes by 70% and OPCs by 30, suggesting that it prevent cells from maturing. 

The findings of the study suggest that researchers did not come up with good alternatives for earlier classes of chemicals. Even though the study uses a mouse model and lab cultures, there could be severe human health implications. The researchers assess the levels of organophosphates that children aged 3-11 are exposed to using datasets from a national health survey.  It is also seen that children with high levels of BDCIPP are 2-6 times more likely to have special educational needs or motor dysfunction than those with low levels. Hence it can be proved that there is a strong link between organophosphate flame-retardant exposure and abnormal neurodevelopment. To limit the use of such chemicals one must use alternative disinfectants like citric acid, lactic acid and other active ingredients like hydrogen peroxide and alcohol. 

Journal reference – Cohn, E. F., Clayton, B. L. L., Madhavan, M., Lee, K. A., Yacoub, S., Fedorov, Y., … Tesar, P. J. (2024). Pervasive environmental chemicals impair oligodendrocyte development.

Retrieved from https://www.nature.com/articles/s41593-024-01599-2 



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