Endocrine disrupting polyhalogenated organic pollutants interfere with thyroid hormone signalling in the developing brain
Persistent polyhalogenated organic pollutants are present worldwide and accumulate along the food chain. They interfere with human and animal health and are particularly harmful for pre- and perinatal neurodevelopment. The mechanisms behind the observed effects vary depending on the specific compound investigated. Co-planar polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) can act via the arylhydrocarbon receptor while many ortho-substituted PCBs disrupt intracellular Ca2+ homeostasis. A common mechanism for a wide variety of PCBs is interference with thyroid hormone (TH) signalling in developing brain, by changing intracellular TH availability or by interacting directly at the level of the TH receptors. Studies on gene expression in cortex and cerebellum revealed both hypothyroid- and hyperthyroid-like effects. However, since THdependent gene expression plays a crucial role in the coordination of neuronal proliferation, migration, synaptogenesis, myelination, etc., both reduced/delayed and increased/premature expression may result in permanent structural changes in neuronal communication networks, leading to lifelong deficits in cognitive performance, motor functions, and psychobehavior. In a similar way, PCBs are able to interfere with estrogen- and androgen-dependent brain development and in some studies neurobehavioral outcome was shown to be gender-specific. Other persistent organohalogens like polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (PCDDs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) also act as endocrine disrupters in the developing brain. Several of the mechanisms involved are similar to those of PCBs, but each group also works via own specific pathways. The fact that persistent organohalogens can amplify the neurotoxic effects of other environmental pollutants, such as heavy metals, further increases their risk for human and animal neurodevelopment.