Our recent study has shown that prenatal exposure to bisphenol A (BPA) altered the expression of genes associated with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). In this study, we further investigated the effects of prenatal BPA exposure on ASD-related genes known to regulate neuronal viability, neuritogenesis, and learning/memory, and assessed these functions in the offspring of exposed pregnant rats. We found that prenatal BPA exposure increased neurite length, the number of primary neurites, and the number of neurite branches, but reduced the size of the hippocampal cell body in both sexes of the offspring. However, in utero exposure to BPA decreased the neuronal viability and the neuronal density in the hippocampus and impaired learning/memory only in the male offspring while the females were not affected. Interestingly, the expression of several ASD-related genes (e.g. Mief2, Eif3h, Cux1, and Atp8a1) in the hippocampus were dysregulated and showed a sex-specific correlation with neuronal viability, neuritogenesis, and/or learning/memory. The findings from this study suggest that prenatal BPA exposure disrupts ASD-related genes involved in neuronal viability, neuritogenesis, and learning/memory in a sex-dependent manner, and these genes may play an important role in the risk and the higher prevalence of ASD in males subjected to prenatal BPA exposure.
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