Identification of chemicals that mimic transcriptional changes associated with autism, brain aging and neurodegeneration

Brandon L. Pearson, Jeremy M. Simon, Eric S. McCoy, Gabriela Salazar, Giulia Fragola, Mark J. Zylka

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Environmental factors, including pesticides, have been linked to autism and neurodegeneration risk using retrospective epidemiological studies. Here we sought to prospectively identify chemicals that share transcriptomic signatures with neurological disorders, by exposing mouse cortical neuron-enriched cultures to hundreds of chemicals commonly found in the environment and on food. We find that rotenone, a pesticide associated with Parkinson's disease risk, and certain fungicides, including pyraclostrobin, trifloxystrobin, famoxadone and fenamidone, produce transcriptional changes in vitro that are similar to those seen in brain samples from humans with autism, advanced age and neurodegeneration (Alzheimer's disease and Huntington's disease). These chemicals stimulate free radical production and disrupt microtubules in neurons, effects that can be reduced by pretreating with a microtubule stabilizer, an antioxidant, or with sulforaphane. Our study provides an approach to prospectively identify environmental chemicals that transcriptionally mimic autism and other brain disorders.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11173
JournalNature Communications
Publication statusPublished - Mar 31 2016

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Chemistry(all)
  • Physics and Astronomy(all)


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