Impairment of human dopaminergic neurons at different developmental stages by perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA) and differential human brain areas accumulation of perfluoroalkyl chemicals

By Andrea Di Nisio, Micaela Pannella, Stefania Vogiatzis, Stefania Sut, Stefano Dall'Acqua, Maria Santa Rocca, Angelo Antonini, Andrea Porzionato, Raffaele De Caro, Mario Bortolozzi, Luca De Toni, and Carlo Foresta
Environ Int
November 23, 2021
DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106982

Perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs) are synthetic chemicals widely used in industrial and consumer products. The environmental spreading of PFASs raises concerns for their impact on human health. In particular, the bioaccumulation in humans due to environmental exposure has been reported also in total brain samples and PFAS exposure has been associated with neurodevelopmental disorders. In this study we aimed to investigate the specific PFAS bioaccumulation in different brain areas. Our data reported major accumulation in the brainstem region, which is richly populated by dopaminergic neurons (DNs), in brain autopsy samples from people resident in a PFAS-polluted area of Italy. Since DNs are the main source of dopamine (DA) in the mammalian central nervous system (CNS), we evaluated the possible functional consequences of perfluoro-octanoic acid (PFOA) exposure in a human model of DNs obtained by differentiation of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSCs). Particularly, we analyzed the specific effect of the exposure to PFOA for 24 h, at the concentration of 10 ng/ml, at 3 different steps of dopaminergic differentiation: the neuronal commitment phase (DP1), the neuronal precursor phase (DP2) and the mature dopaminergic differentiation phase (DP3). Interestingly, compared to untreated cells, exposure to PFOA was associated with a reduced expression of Tyrosine Hydroxylase (TH) and Neurofilament Heavy (NFH), both markers of dopaminergic maturation at DP2 phase. In addition, cells at DP3 phase exposed to PFOA showed a severe reduction in the expression of the Dopamine Transporter (DAT), functionally involved in pre-synaptic dopamine reuptake. In this proof-of-concept study we show a significant impact of PFOA exposure, mainly on the most sensitive stage of neural dopaminergic differentiation, prompting the way for further investigations more directly relevant to risk assessment of these chemicals.

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