Sex-specific epigenetic disruption and behavioral changes following low-dose in utero bisphenol A exposure

Bisphenol A (BPA) is an estrogenic endocrine disruptor widely used in the production of plastics. Increasing evidence indicates that in utero BPA exposure affects sexual differentiation and behavior; however, the mechanisms underlying these effects are unknown. We hypothesized that BPA may disrupt epigenetic programming of gene expression in the brain. Here, we provide evidence that maternal exposure during pregnancy to environmentally relevant doses of BPA (2, 20, and 200 µg/kg/d) in mice induces sex-specific, dose-dependent (linear and curvilinear), and brain region-specific changes in expression of genes encoding estrogen receptors (ERs; ERα and ERβ) and estrogen-related receptor-γ in juvenile offspring. Concomitantly, BPA altered mRNA levels of epigenetic regulators DNA methyltransferase (DNMT) 1 and DNMT3A in the juvenile cortex and hypothalamus, paralleling changes in estrogen-related receptors. Importantly, changes in ERα and DNMT expression in the cortex (males) and hypothalamus (females) were associated with DNA methylation changes in the ERα gene. BPA exposure induced persistent, largely sex-specific effects on social and anxiety-like behavior, leading to disruption of sexually dimorphic behaviors. Although postnatal maternal care was altered in mothers treated with BPA during pregnancy, the effects of in utero BPA were not found to be mediated by maternal care. However, our data suggest that increased maternal care may partially attenuate the effects of in utero BPA on DNA methylation. Overall, we demonstrate that low-dose prenatal BPA exposure induces lasting epigenetic disruption in the brain that possibly underlie enduring effects of BPA on brain function and behavior, especially regarding sexually dimorphic phenotypes.

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