Thimerosal is a vaccine antimicrobial preservative which has long been suspected an iatrogenic factor possibly contributing to neurodevelopmental disorders including autism. The association between infant vaccine thimerosal exposure and autism remains an open question. Although thimerosal has been removed from mandatory childhood vaccines in the United States, thimerosal-preserved vaccines are still widely used outside of the United States especially in developing countries. Notably, thimerosal-containing vaccines are being given to the newborns within the first 12-24 h after birth in some countries. To examine the possible neurotoxic effects of early neonatal exposure to a higher level of thimerosal, FVB mice were subcutaneously injected with thimerosal-mercury at a dose which is 20× higher than that used for regular Chinese infant immunization during the first 4 months of life. Thimerosal-treated mice exhibited neural development delay, social interaction deficiency, and inclination of depression. Apparent neuropathological changes were also observed in adult mice neonatally treated with thimerosal. High-throughput RNA sequencing of autistic-behaved mice brains revealed the alternation of a number of canonical pathways involving neuronal development, neuronal synaptic function, and the dysregulation of endocrine system. Intriguingly, the elevation of anterior pituitary secreting hormones occurred exclusively in male but not in female thimerosal-treated mice, demonstrating for the first time the gender bias of thimerosal-mercury toxicity with regard to endocrine system. Our results indicate that higher dose of neonatal thimerosal-mercury (20× higher than that used in human) is capable of inducing long-lasting substantial dysregulation of neurodevelopment, synaptic function, and endocrine system, which could be the causal involvements of autistic-like behavior in mice.
Keywords: anterior pituitary; autistic disorder; hormone; neurotoxicity; thimerosal; transcriptomic analyses.