Absorption, distribution, and toxicity of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in the brain: a review


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a class of synthetic chemicals colloquially known as “forever chemicals” because of their high persistence. PFAS have been detected in the blood, liver, kidney, heart, muscle and brain of various species. Although brain is not a dominant tissue for PFAS accumulation compared to blood and liver, adverse effects of PFAS on brain functions have been identified. Here, we review studies related to the absorption, accumulation, distribution and toxicity of PFAS in the brain. We summarize evidence on two potential mechanisms of PFAS entering the brain: initiating blood-brain barrier (BBB) disassembly through disrupting tight junctions and relying on transporters located at the BBB. PFAS with diverse structures and properties enter and accumulate in the brain with varying efficiencies. Compared to long-chain PFAS, short-chain PFAS may not cross cerebral barriers effectively. According to biomonitoring studies and PFAS exposure experiments, PFAS can accumulate in the brain of humans and wildlife species. With respect to the distribution of PFAS in specific brain regions, the brain stem, hippocampus, hypothalamus, pons/medulla and thalamus are dominant for PFAS accumulation. The accumulation and distribution of PFAS in the brain may lead to toxic effects in the central nervous system (CNS), including PFAS-induced behavioral and cognitive disorders. The specific mechanisms underlying such PFAS-induced neurotoxicity remain to be explored, but two major potential mechanisms based on current understanding are PFAS effects on calcium homeostasis and neurotransmitter alterations in neurons. Based on the information available about PFAS uptake, accumulation, distribution and impacts on the brain, PFAS have the potential to enter and accumulate in the brain at varying levels. The balance of existing studies shows there is some indication of risk in animals, while the human evidence is mixed and warrants further scrutiny.

Authors: Yuexin Cao, Carla Ng
; Full Source: Environmental science. Processes & impacts 2021 Sep 17. doi: 10.1039/d1em00228g.