Polybrominated diphenyl ethers: neurobehavioral effects following developmental exposure

Neurotoxicology. 2003 Jun;24(3):449-62. doi: 10.1016/S0161-813X(03)00020-2.


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), a class of widely used flame retardants, are becoming widespread environmental pollutants, as indicated by studies on sentinel animal species, as well as humans. Of particular concern are the reported increasingly high levels of PBDEs in human milk, as should be given that almost no information is available on their potential effects on developing organisms. In order to address this issue, studies have been conducted in mice and rats to assess the potential neurotoxic effects of perinatal exposure to PBDEs (congeners 47, 99, 153 and the penta-BDE mixture DE-71). Characteristic endpoints of PBDE neurotoxicity are, among others, endocrine disruption (e.g. decreased thyroid hormone levels), alteration in cholinergic system activity (behavioral hyporesponsivity to nicotine challenge), as well as alterations of several behavioral parameters. In particular, the main hallmark of PBDE neurotoxicity is a marked hyperactivity at adulthood. Furthermore, a deficit in learning and memory processes has been found at adulthood in neonatally exposed animals. Some of neurotoxic effects of PBDEs are comparable to those of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), though the latter class of compounds seems to exert a stronger toxic effect. Available information on PBDE neurotoxicity obtained from animal studies and the possibility of neonatal exposure to PBDEs via the mother's milk suggest that these compounds may represent a potential risk for neurobehavioral development in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior / drug effects*
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Female
  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Brominated / chemistry
  • Hydrocarbons, Brominated / toxicity*
  • Phenyl Ethers / chemistry
  • Phenyl Ethers / toxicity*
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / chemistry
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*


  • Halogenated Diphenyl Ethers
  • Hydrocarbons, Brominated
  • Phenyl Ethers
  • Polybrominated Biphenyls
  • pentabromodiphenyl ether