“We’re beginning to have a better understanding of flame retardants and their effect on human health. This particular study helps us literally see what brominated flame retardants do when they get in the body — they interfere with the body’s natural hormones,” said Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, and National Toxicology Program (NTP). “Using the 3-D imaging capabilities, we can see the flame retardants binding, or attaching, to proteins like estrogens do.”
Birnbaum is an author on the new study which appears online in Environmental Health Perspectives. She and her fellow researchers conducted the study in a facility jointly supported by several NIH institutes.
Birnbaum, a leading researcher on flame retardants, joined with biologists and a postdoctoral fellow to look more closely at one of the most widely used BFRs, tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA). Earlier this year, NTP released data from a two-year bioassay study, showing that TBBPA caused tumors in rats and mice.
“Having chemicals act like estrogen or other hormones disrupts how the endocrine system works,” said Birnbaum. “In this case, the ability of flame retardants to bind to and inhibit an enzyme that metabolizes estrogen, called estrogen sulfotransferase, could result in the body having too much estrogen.”
The endocrine system is one of the body’s main communication networks and is responsible for controlling and coordinating numerous functions, including growth and development, reproduction, response to stress, and energy levels.
There are hundreds of different flame retardants. They are often broken into categories based on chemical structure and properties. BFRs, such as TBBPA, are used in many types of consumer goods, including electronics, furniture, building materials, and automobiles. Flame retardants are being studied, because of their pervasiveness and concerns about possible adverse effects on the endocrine, immune, reproductive, and nervous systems.
For this study, the researchers used X-ray crystallography to build a 3-D model of the protein binding to flame retardants. Crystallography allows researchers to look at proteins at the atomic level. They examined how TBBPA and a metabolite, or derivative, of another flame retardant called tetrabromodiphenyl ether, or BDE-47, compared with binding of estradiol, a naturally occurring estrogen, to the estrogen sulfotransferase.
Although many flame retardants, including BDE-47, are no longer produced in the United States, some BFRs are slow to break down and can persist in the environment. People can be exposed to flame retardants through a variety of ways, including diet; consumer products in the home, car, and workplace; and house dust.
“Using crystallography allows us to visualize exactly how these compounds can interact with the body’s enzymes,” said Lars Pedersen, Ph.D., Collaborative X-ray Crystallography Group leader at NIEHS. “Our results revealed TBBPA binding to the estrogen sulfotransferase at the same position and in a similar manner as estradiol binds.”
“Although there is much more to be learned about how these chemicals and their metabolites impact different systems in the body, every piece of the puzzle helps increase our understanding of the effects they may have.” Researchers, like Pedersen and Birnbaum, hope the findings will be used by companies to develop safer alternatives to current flame retardants.
Gosavi RA, Knudsen GA, Birnbaum, LS, Pedersen LC. Mimicking of estradiol binding by flame retardants and their metabolites: a crystallographic analysis. Environ Health Perspect; doi:10.1289/ehp.1306902 [online August 19, 2013]
National Toxicology Program. 2013. Tetrabromobisphenol A. Available: http://ntp.niehs.nih.gov/go/TS-M200033 [accessed August 12, 2013].
NIEHS supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health and is part of NIH. For more information on environmental health topics, visit http://www.niehs.nih.gov. Subscribe to one or more of the NIEHS news lists (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/releases/newslist/index.cfm) to stay current on NIEHS news, press releases, grant opportunities, training, events, and publications.
About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov.
Robin Mackar | Source: Newswise
Further information: www.nih.gov
Further Reports about: 3-D image > BFRs > Crystallography > endocrine system > Environmental Health > Environmental Health Sciences > environmental risk > flame retardants > Health Sciences > health services > human health > medical research > nervous system > NIEHS > NIH > Toxicology > X-ray microscopy
More articles from Studies and Analyses:
Study uncovers new evidence for assessing tsunami risk from very large volcanic island landslides
11.12.2013 | National Oceanography Centre
Money may corrupt, but thinking about time can strengthen morality
11.12.2013 | Association for Psychological Science
The molecular architecture of three key proteins and their complexes reveals how plants fine-tune their immune response to pathogens
Plants rarely get sick in their natural environment. When the threat of infection arises, a quick decision is made about the necessary countermeasures. The course is set by a protein which forms complexes with its partner proteins for this purpose.
Jane Parker from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding ...
Researchers studying speciation of butterfly orchids on the Azores have been startled to discover that the answer to a long-debated question "Do the islands support one species or two species?" is actually "three species".
Hochstetter's Butterfly-orchid, newly recognized following application of a battery of scientific techniques and reveling in a complex taxonomic history worthy of Sherlock Holmes, is arguably Europe's rarest orchid species. Under threat in its mountain-top retreat, the orchid urgently requires conservation recognition.
A lavishly illustrated publication, titled "Systematic revision of Platanthera in ...
Researchers from Brown University and the University of Hawaii have found some mineralogical surprises in the Moon's largest impact crater.
Data from the Moon Mineralogy Mapper that flew aboard India's Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter shows a diverse mineralogy in the subsurface of the giant South Pole Aitken basin.
The differing mineral signatures could be reflective of the minerals dredged up at the time of the giant impact 4 billion years ago, ...
In power electronics systems bonded connections create the central electrical connections between adjoining surfaces.
The quality of these bonded connections is one of the main factors that determines the reliability and availability of drive systems in electric vehicles, and hence constitutes a major design challenge for German auto manufacturers aiming to electrify their vehicles.
Now the partners participating in the RoBE (Robust Bonds in ...
International team of scientists develops new feedback method for optimizing the laser pulse shapes used in the control of chemical reactions
In many ways, traditional chemical synthesis is similar to cooking. To alter the final product, you can change the ingredients or their ratio, change the method of mixing ingredients, or change the temperature or pressure of the environment of the ingredients.
Like an accomplished chef, chemists have become very skilled ...
11.12.2013 | Information Technology
11.12.2013 | Life Sciences
11.12.2013 | Agricultural and Forestry Science
11.12.2013 | Event News
10.12.2013 | Event News
05.12.2013 | Event News