Brominated flame retardants, including Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been used at increasing levels in home furnishings and electronics over the past 25 years. They have also become widespread environmental pollutants. High PBDE levels have been detected in food, household dust, and indoor air, with subsequent appearance in animal and human tissues. This minireview summarizes studies on the extent to which these compounds can act as potent thyroid hormone mimetics, and emerging studies on long-term neurological effects of acute administration of PBDEs during development. When these data are considered in combination with the extensive literature on stage-dependent effects of thyroid hormone on aspects of brain development that are also implicated in autistic brains, a hypothesis that PBDEs might also serve as autism risk factors emerges. Studies designed to explicitly test this hypothesis will require chronic exposure paradigms, and specific body burden and behavioral monitoring in animal models. Such testing may help to prioritize extensive human epidemiological studies, as well as offer protocols for evaluation of future compounds.
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