Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) acutely affect human α1β2γ2L GABAA receptor and spontaneous neuronal network function in vitro

Sci Rep. 2020 Mar 24;10(1):5311. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-62152-2.


Concerns about the neurotoxic potential of polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) such as perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) increase, although their neurotoxic mechanisms of action remain debated. Considering the importance of the GABAA receptor in neuronal function, we investigated acute effects of PFAS on this receptor and on spontaneous neuronal network activity. PFOS (Lowest Observed Effect Concentration (LOEC) 0.1 µM) and PFOA (LOEC 1 µM) inhibited the GABA-evoked current and acted as non-competitive human GABAA receptor antagonists. Network activity of rat primary cortical cultures increased following exposure to PFOS (LOEC 100 µM). However, exposure of networks of human induced pluripotent stem cell (hiPSC)-derived neurons decreased neuronal activity. The higher sensitivity of the α1β2γ2L GABAA receptor for PFAS as compared to neuronal networks suggests that PFAS have additional mechanisms of action, or that compensatory mechanisms are at play. Differences between rodent and hiPSC-derived neuronal networks highlight the importance of proper model composition. LOECs for PFAS on GABAA receptor and neuronal activity reported here are within or below the range found in blood levels of occupationally exposed humans. For PFOS, LOECs are even within the range found in human serum and plasma of the general population, suggesting a clear neurotoxic risk.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkanesulfonic Acids / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Caprylates / toxicity*
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Fluorocarbons / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / drug effects
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / metabolism
  • Induced Pluripotent Stem Cells / pathology*
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / pathology*
  • Oocytes / drug effects
  • Oocytes / growth & development
  • Oocytes / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Receptors, GABA-A / chemistry*
  • Receptors, GABA-A / metabolism
  • Xenopus laevis


  • Alkanesulfonic Acids
  • Caprylates
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Receptors, GABA-A
  • perfluorooctanoic acid
  • perfluorooctane sulfonic acid