Using Brain Organoids to Study Gene-Environment Interactions

November 08, 2021

“Miniature Brains” Show Promise for Understanding Mysteries Surrounding ASD

A new article published in Environmental Health Perspectives sheds more light on a recently published study investigating the use of brain organoids in autism research. Grown artificially and derived from human cells, brain organoids are sometimes referred to as “miniature brains.” Once mature, brain organoids display structures that resemble brain regions and simulate specific changes of neurological disorders, which is why this technology may be important for ASD research. In order to investigate the gene-environment interactions that have been tied to the etiology of autism, the study’s authors exposed two versions of the high-risk autism gene CHD8 (normal and mutated) to two forms of chlorpyrifos: pesticide chlorpyrifos (CPF) or metabolite chlorpyrifos-oxon (CPO).  After four weeks of differentiation, the team exposed both types of brain organoids to CPF and CPO for 24 hours. They  discovered that CPF and CPO exposure reduced CHD8 protein levels more than mutation alone. The pesticide also exacerbated the effect of the mutation on several related metabolites and neurotransmitters. The team suggests that their findings indicate that a strong genetic background such as carrying a mutation on a high-risk gene like CHD8 can trigger ASD alone. However, they also acknowledge that a certain genetic background can synergize with environmental cofactors and worsen symptoms and severity of ASD. Other researchers not connected to this study are excited about brain organoid technology and view it as the future for autism research, especially when it comes to drug development. 

Original Article

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