US scientists flag up fungicides with possible brain risk

A number of fungicides used on fresh produce and ornamental crops appear to cause genetic damage to neurons in mice similar to that seen in humans with autism, Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease, according to new US research.

Image: Umberto Salvagnin
Image: Umberto Salvagnin
The researchers from the University of South Carolina tested nearly 300 commonly used pesticides in vitro to study their effect on mouse cortical neuron-enriched cultures.

Fungicides including pyraclostrobin, trifloxystrobin, famoxadone and fenamidone "produced transcriptional changes similar to those seen in brain samples from humans with autism, advanced age and neurodegeneration", the paper, published this week in the online journal Nature Communications, said.

It concludes: "Monitoring steady-state levels in the environment, assessing exposure levels and pharmacokinetics, and epidemiological studies will be needed to evaluate whether any of these chemicals pose real neurological threats to humans or increase risk for brain disorders."

Corresponding author of the study Mark Zylka told The Guardian: "We in no way say these things do cause autism. There are lots of chemicals that are bad for neurons in a dish. The question is, does it get into our bodies at levels that are sufficient to get into the brain and cause some of the effects we see in these cultures?"

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