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Antidepressants in Drinking Water Possibly Linked to Autism

Filed June 8th, 2012 Laurie

Low levels of antidepressants and other psychoactive drugs have been found to trigger the expression of genes associated with autism in fish.

Scientists say about 80 percent of antidepressants – the use of which has exploded over the last 25 years – are passed through the human body without being broken down, so they are present in wastewater. Most water purification systems cannot filter antidepressants out of the water. The drugs eventually find their way into the water supply.

Though the concentrations in the water are extremely low, they are still dangerous because they are designed to target the nervous system. Even a tiny amount can affect a fetus.

For the study, researchers exposed fathead minnows to two selective reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) – fluoxetine and venlafaxine – at very low doses over the course of 18 days. Researchers then analyzed the genes that were being expressed in the fishes’ brains. They expected that the drugs would activate genes linked to neurological disorders, but only 324 genes associated with autism in humans appeared to be significantly altered. Most of those genes are involved in early brain development and wiring.

The researchers determined there is no reason for pregnant women to be concerned about their drinking water just yet. They plan to study the effects on mammals in the near future.

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