TORONTO, July 7, 2010 − A York University study has shown for the first time how the drug misoprostol, which has been linked to neurodevelopmental defects associated with autism, interferes with neuronal cell function.
It is an important finding because misoprostol is similar in structure to naturally-occurring prostaglandins, which are the key signaling molecules produced by fatty acids in the brain.
Past clinical studies have shown an association between misoprostol and severe neurodevelopmental defects including autism symptoms. Those studies looked at cases in Brazil in which women misused the drug early in pregnancy in unsuccessful attempts to terminate their pregnancies.
The York study examined mouse neuronal cells to discover how the drug actually interferes at a molecular level with prostaglandins, which are important for development and communication of cells in the brain.
"Early in the first trimester of pregnancy, neuronal cells reach out to communicate with one another," says Dorota Crawford, an assistant professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Science in York's Faculty of Health. "Our study shows that misoprostol interferes with this process by increasing the level of calcium ions in neuronal extensions, which reduces the number and length of these extensions. It prevents the cells from communicating with each other. If changes in prostaglandin level alter the development or differentiation of cells, it may have a physiological impact."
Crawford and Javaneh Tamiji, who undertook the research for her master's thesis in the Neuroscience Graduate Diploma Program at York, co-authored a study published online in the journal Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications: "Prostaglandin E2 and misoprostol induce neurite retraction in Neuro-2a cells."
There is no indication that women in Canada are misusing misoprostol to terminate pregnancies, and in fact the drug is used
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