02/28/2013 11:04 am ET

BPA Could Affect Brain Development By Impacting Gene Regulation, Study Finds

In yet another study drawing a connection between bisphenol A and potential negative health effects, researchers at Duke University have linked environmental exposure to the plastics chemical with disruption of a gene necessary for proper functioning of nerve cells.

"Our study found that BPA may impair the development of the central nervous system, and raises the question as to whether exposure could predispose animals and humans to neurodevelopmental disorders," study researcher Dr. Wolfgang Liedtke, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of medicine/neurology and neurobiology at Duke University, said in a statement. Liedtke's research, which was conducted in animals, is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Much of humans' BPA exposure comes through what they eat and drink, via containers used to keep the food. BPA's effects on the human body are of concern because some research suggests it is an endocrine disruptor -- meaning it affects the way hormones work in the body, leading to possible reproductive and developmental effects, not to mention a possible link with a number of diseases and conditions, such as diabetes and obesity. Researchers noted that BPA is known to mimic estrogen in the body; the chemical is currently banned from baby bottles and cups in the U.S.

In this newest study in rodents, researchers found that BPA could potentially have a negative effect on development of the central nervous system by shutting down a gene necessary to the process, called the Kcc2 gene.

If this gene is shut down, the researchers noted that it doesn't produce a protein that plays an important role removing chloride from neurons -- a fundamental step in proper functioning of brain cells.

"Our findings improve our understanding of how environmental exposure to BPA can affect the regulation of the Kcc2 gene," Liedtke said in the statement. "However, we expect future studies to focus on what targets aside from Kcc2 are affected by BPA. This is a chapter in an ongoing story."

Recently, the Silent Spring Institute published a study in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives, examining potential hormone-disrupting chemicals in common everyday products. For some of the products in their study, click through the slideshow:

Endocrine Disruptors