Pervasive environmental chemicals impair oligodendrocyte development


Exposure to environmental chemicals can impair neurodevelopment, and oligodendrocytes may be particularly vulnerable, as their development extends from gestation into adulthood. However, few environmental chemicals have been assessed for potential risks to oligodendrocytes. Here, using a high-throughput developmental screen in cultured cells, we identified environmental chemicals in two classes that disrupt oligodendrocyte development through distinct mechanisms. Quaternary compounds, ubiquitous in disinfecting agents and personal care products, were potently and selectively cytotoxic to developing oligodendrocytes, whereas organophosphate flame retardants, commonly found in household items such as furniture and electronics, prematurely arrested oligodendrocyte maturation. Chemicals from each class impaired oligodendrocyte development postnatally in mice and in a human 3D organoid model of prenatal cortical development. Analysis of epidemiological data showed that adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes were associated with childhood exposure to the top organophosphate flame retardant identified by our screen. This work identifies toxicological vulnerabilities for oligodendrocyte development and highlights the need for deeper scrutiny of these compounds’ impacts on human health.

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