- Author: Kathy Keatley Garvey
ASD, which impacts the nervous system, affects 1 percent of the U.S. population or 62.2 million globally. An estimated 64 percent and 91 percent of the population are at risk genetically.
The researchers' latest paper, “Maternal Glyphosate Exposure Causes Autism-Like Behaviors in Offspring through Increased Expression of Soluble Epoxide Hydrolase,” appears in the current edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide and crop desiccant used to kill broadleaf weeds and grasses that compete with agricultural crops.
“In the research of autism, brain-gut-microbiota axis plays a key role in ASD from human studies,” said lead researcher and neurobiologist Kenji Hashimoto of the Division of Clinical Neuroscience, Chiba University Center for Forensic Mental Health, Chiba, Japan. “Accumulating evidence suggests abnormal composition of gut microbiota in subjects with autism. In this study, we found abnormal composition of gut microbiota in offspring after maternal glyphosate exposure. Thus, exposure of glyphosate during pregnancy may cause abnormal composition of gut microbiota in offspring, resulting in the risk for autism.'
The drug discovered in the Hammock lab inhibits sEH, a natural enzyme that regulates epoxy fatty acids, “which control blood pressure, fibrosis, immunity, tissue growth, depression, pain and inflammation to name a few processes,” said co-author Hammock, a distinguished professor with a joint appointment in the UC Davis Department of Entomology and Nematology and the UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center. Human clinical trials underway to see if the non-addictive drug relieves chronic pain.
“It is critical to appreciate that mouse models are not absolutely predictive of the human situation,” Hammock said.“Similarly, maternal immune stress is simply a model that gives behavioral changes in the offspring. That said, it is a relevant model of abnormalities in mental development in the offspring. This is a widely used model of the effect of maternal stress on the next generation that has been established in many species, including nonhuman primates. Sadly, maternal stress was shown tightly associated with the mental state of human children as well.”
“Such studies are important to generate hypotheses of environmental risk,” said Hammock, who meshes his expertise in chemistry, toxicology, biochemistry and entomology, in his 50-year research to find a non-addictive drug to control chronic pain. “Because we only saw maternal immune stress at exceptionally high doses of glyphosate, our data fail to support the hypothesis that glyphosate exposure causes autism with expected dietary, environmental or even occupational exposure.”
The research drew financial support from the Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (to Hashimoto); and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) River Award (to Hammock), and NIEHS Superfund Program (to Hammock). Hammock has directed the UC Davis Superfund Program for nearly four decades.
The Hashimoto-directed Chiba group has shown that these drug candidates prevent and even reverse a variety of chronic diseases of the central nervous system in mice and human cells including ASD like behaviors.
The 16 co-authors include Hammock lab researchers Jun Yang, Sung Hee Hwang and Debin Wan.
Yang said that the researchers “hypothesized that the role of the sEH is important in the pathogenesis of ASD in offspring after maternal glyphosate exposure based on our previous finding that sEH plays a key role in the development of ASD-like behavioral abnormalities in juvenile offspring after maternal immune activation (MIA), a prenatal environmental factor.”
Said Hwang: “Some epidemiological studies suggest an association between glyphosate use in agriculture and increases in autism like disorders. The doses we used in mice were so high that we fail to support glyphosate epidemiological associations between the herbicide use and the cause ASD-like behaviors.
The PNAS abstract:
“Epidemiological studies suggest that exposure to herbicides during pregnancy might increase risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in offspring. However, the mechanisms underlying the risk of ASD by herbicides such as glyphosate remain unclear. Soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) in the metabolism of polyunsaturated fatty acids is shown to play a key role in the development of ASD in offspring after maternal immune activation. Here, we found ASD-like behavioral abnormalities in juvenile offspring after maternal exposure to high levels of formulated glyphosate.
“Furthermore, we found increases in sEH in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), hippocampus, and striatum of juvenile offspring and oxylipin analysis showed decreased levels of epoxy-fatty acids such as 8(9)-EpETrE in the blood, PFC, hippocampus, and striatum of offspring after maternal glyphosate exposure, supporting increased activity of sEH in the offspring. Moreover, we report abnormal composition of gut microbiota and short chain fatty acids in fecal samples of juvenile offspring after maternal glyphosate exposure. Interestingly, oral administration of TPPU (an sEH inhibitor) to pregnant mothers from E5 to P21 prevented ASD-like behaviors such as social interaction deficits and increased grooming time in the juvenile offspring. These findings suggest that maternal exposure to high levels of glyphosate causes ASD-like behavioral abnormalities and abnormal composition of gut microbiota in juvenile offspring, and that increased activity of sEH might play a role in ASD-like behaviors in offspring after maternal glyphosate exposure. Therefore, sEH may represent a target for ASD in offspring after maternal stress from occupational exposure to contaminants.
“Maternal exposure to high levels of the herbicide glyphosate may increase the risk for autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in offspring; however, the underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown. Maternal glyphosate exposure during pregnancy and lactation caused ASD-like behavioral abnormalities and abnormal composition of gut microbiota in murine male offspring. Soluble epoxide hydrolase (sEH) in the brain of offspring after maternal glyphosate exposure was higher than controls. Treatment with an sEH inhibitor from pregnancy to weaning prevented the onset of ASD-like behavioral abnormalities in offspring after maternal glyphosate exposure. The glyphosate exposures used here exceed any reasonable dietary, environmental or occupational exposure, but they indicate that increased sEH plays a role in ASD-like behaviors in offspring.”