Toxic metal(loid)-based pollutants and their possible role in autism spectrum disorder
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social interaction, verbal and non-verbal communication, and stereotypic behaviors. Many studies support a significant relationship between many different environmental factors in ASD etiology. These factors include increased daily exposure to various toxic metal-based environmental pollutants, which represent a cause for concern in public health. This article reviews the most relevant toxic metals, commonly found, environmental pollutants, i.e., lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), aluminium (Al), and the metalloid arsenic (As).
Additionally, it discusses how pollutants can be a possible pathogenetic cause of ASD through various mechanisms including neuroinflammation in different regions of the brain, fundamentally occurring through elevation of the proinflammatory profile of cytokines and aberrant expression of nuclear factor kappa B (NF-κB). Due to the worldwide increase in toxic environmental pollution, studies on the role of pollutants in neurodevelopmental disorders, including direct effects on the developing brain and the subjects’ genetic susceptibility and polymorphism, are of utmost importance to achieve the best therapeutic approach and preventive strategies.