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Hand sanitizers and other household chemicals pose threat to brain health, study finds

Neurological problems affect millions of individuals, with only a fraction of cases being solely attributed to genetics.
Neurological problems affect millions of individuals, with only a fraction of cases being solely attributed to genetics. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)


Researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine have shed light on the potential hazards posed by certain everyday chemicals to brain health. They propose that chemicals commonly found in household disinfectants, furniture to hair products, could be linked to neurological diseases such as multiple sclerosis and autism spectrum disorders.


Neurological problems affect millions of individuals, with only a fraction of cases being solely attributed to genetics. This indicates that unidentified environmental factors play a significant role in neurological diseases.


 
 

Household chemicals and brain health


The findings of the new study, published in the journal Nature Neuroscience, reveal that certain household chemicals specifically target the brain's oligodendrocytes, specialized cells responsible for producing the protective insulation around nerve cells.


(LEFT) Paul Tesar, the principal investigator of the study and the Dr. Donald and Ruth Weber Goodman Professor of Innovative Therapeutics at the School of Medicine and (RIGHT) Erin Cohn, the lead author and a graduate student in the School of Medicine's Medical Scientist Training Program. (CREDIT: Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine)


"Loss of oligodendrocytes underlies multiple sclerosis and other neurological diseases," stated Paul Tesar, the principal investigator of the study and the Dr. Donald and Ruth Weber Goodman Professor of Innovative Therapeutics at the School of Medicine. "We now show that specific chemicals in consumer products can directly harm oligodendrocytes, representing a previously unrecognized risk factor for neurological disease."


 
 

Driven by the notion that insufficient research has been conducted on the impact of chemicals on brain health, the researchers examined over 1,800 chemicals potentially encountered by humans.


They identified two classes of chemicals—organophosphate flame retardants and quaternary ammonium compounds—that selectively damaged oligodendrocytes.


 

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Quaternary ammonium compounds are commonly found in personal-care products and disinfectants, which have seen increased usage since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Organophosphate flame retardants are prevalent in many electronics and furniture.


Employing cellular and organoid systems in the laboratory, the researchers demonstrated that quaternary ammonium compounds induce the death of oligodendrocytes, while organophosphate flame retardants impede their maturation.


 
 

Neurological impact to multiple sclerosis and autism spectrum disorders


Moreover, the researchers illustrated how these chemicals impair oligodendrocytes in the developing brains of mice. Additionally, they linked exposure to one of the chemicals to adverse neurological outcomes in children nationwide.


Quaternary compounds are potently cytotoxic to developing oligodendrocytes.
Quaternary compounds are potently cytotoxic to developing oligodendrocytes. (CREDIT: Nature Neuroscience)


"We found that oligodendrocytes—but not other brain cells—are surprisingly vulnerable to quaternary ammonium compounds and organophosphate flame retardants," explained Erin Cohn, the lead author and a graduate student in the School of Medicine's Medical Scientist Training Program. "Understanding human exposure to these chemicals may help explain a missing link in how some neurological diseases arise."


 
 

The researchers cautioned that further investigation is needed to establish the association between human exposure to these chemicals and their effects on brain health. Future research should monitor chemical levels in the brains of both adults and children to determine the extent and duration of exposure required to trigger or exacerbate disease.


"Our findings underscore the need for a more comprehensive examination of the impacts of these common household chemicals on brain health," Tesar emphasized. "We hope that our work will contribute to informed decisions regarding regulatory measures or behavioral interventions aimed at minimizing chemical exposure and safeguarding human health."


Additional contributing researchers from Case Western Reserve School of Medicine and from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency included Benjamin Clayton, Mayur Madhavan, Kristin Lee, Sara Yacoub, Yuriy Fedorov, Marissa Scavuzzo, Katie Paul Friedman and Timothy Shafer. 


 
 

The research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of HealthNational Multiple Sclerosis SocietyHoward Hughes Medical Institute and New York Stem Cell Foundation, and philanthropic support by sTF5 Care and the Long, Walter, Peterson, Goodman and Geller families.






For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


 

Note: Materials provided above by The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


 
 

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