Chlorination byproducts induce gender specific autistic-like behaviors in CD-1 mice

Neurotoxicology. 2011 Oct;32(5):545-53. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2011.06.008. Epub 2011 Jun 29.


In 2000, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) released a report concerning elevated autism prevalence and the presence water chlorination byproducts in the municipal drinking water supply in Brick Township, New Jersey. The ATSDR concluded that it was unlikely that these chemicals, specifically chloroform, bromoform (Trihalomethanes; THMs) and tetrachloroethylene (Perchloroethylene; PCE) had contributed to the prevalence of autism in this community based upon correlations between timing of exposure and/or concentration of exposure. The ATSDR conclusion may have been premature, as there is no conclusive data evidencing a correlation between a particular developmental time point that would render an individual most susceptible to toxicological insult with the development of autism. Therefore, it was our aim to determine if these chemicals could contribute to autistic like behaviors. We found that males treated with THMs and PCE have a significant reduction in the number of ultrasonic vocalizations (USVs) emitted in response to maternal separation, which are not attributed to deficits in vocal ability to or to lesser maternal care. These same males also show significantly elevated anxiety, an increase in perseverance behavior and a significant reduction in sociability. The sum of our data suggests that male, but not female mice, develop autistic like behaviors after gestational and postnatal exposure to the aforementioned chemical triad via drinking water. We believe development of such aberrant behaviors likely involves GABAergic system development.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Animals, Newborn
  • Autistic Disorder / chemically induced*
  • Autistic Disorder / psychology
  • Drinking Water / administration & dosage
  • Drinking Water / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Halogenation*
  • Male
  • Maternal Deprivation
  • Mice
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / psychology
  • Sex Characteristics*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / toxicity*


  • Drinking Water
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical