Carolyn Slupsky, PhD – Department of Nutrition

Maternal Metabolome, PON1 Status, Organophosphate Exposure and Childhood Autism

With the rapid rise in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) diagnoses over the last three decades, identification of the causes and mechanisms of this condition is urgently needed. Building on recent findings that children prenatally exposed to pesticides have an increased risk of an ASD diagnosis, serum from children was previously analyzed. A distinct metabolic pattern was found in children with ASD who were exposed to pesticides in utero that revealed associations with insulin regulation. Given the correlation between insulin resistance and decreased activity of paraoxonase 1 (or PON1, an enzyme involved in detoxification), we hypothesize that exposure to pesticides during pregnancy coupled with reduced maternal PON1 activity is associated with the metabolic health of the mother and the neurological outcome and metabolic health of her child. Most of the evidence about environmental factors in autism provides sparse information about the biologic mechanisms of neurodevelopment. This project seeks to generate preliminary data on perturbations in basic biochemical pathways and reduced PON1 status as a consequence of pesticide exposure, and its association with autism in children.