Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has emerged as a major public health concern due to its fast-growing prevalence in recent decades. Environmental factors are thought to contribute substantially to the variance in ASD. Interest in environmental toxins as causes of ASD has arisen due to the high sensitivity of the developing human brain to toxic chemicals, particularly to dioxin and certain dioxin-like compounds (dioxins). As a group of typical persistent organic pollutants, dioxins have been found to exert adverse effects on human brain development. In this paper, we review the evidence for association of exposure to dioxins with neurodevelopmental abnormalities related to ASD based on both human epidemiological and animal studies. It has been documented that exposure to dioxins during critical developmental periods increased risk for ASD. This notion has been demonstrated in different populations exposed to high or background level of dioxins. Furthermore, the effects and mechanisms of action of dioxins relevant to the pathophysiology and pathogenesis of ASD are summarized, describing potential underlying mechanisms linking dioxin exposure with ASD onset. Further studies focusing on effects of prenatal/perinatal exposure to individual dioxin congeners or to mixtures of dioxins on ASD-associated behavioral and neurobiological consequences in animal models, and on the mechanisms of actions of dioxins, are needed in order to better understand how dioxin exposure might contribute to increased risk for ASD.
Keywords: ASD pathogenesis; ASD pathophysiology; Autism spectrum disorder; Dioxins; Neurodevelopmental disorder.
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