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Mouse Study: Exposure to Common Pesticide May Increase Risk of ADHD

A new lab study by scientists from several prominent universities suggests a commonly used pesticide may increase the risk of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in children.

Researchers believe the pesticide alters the development of the brain’s dopamine system, the part of the brain responsible for emotional expression and cognitive function.

Scientists from Rutgers University, Emory University, the University of Rochester Medical Center, and Wake Forest University discovered that mice exposed to the pyrethroid pesticide deltamethrin in utero and through lactation exhibited several features of ADHD.

As a result of the exposure, mice developed dysfunctional dopamine signaling in the brain which led to hyperactivity, working memory problems, attention deficits, and impulsive-like behavior.

The lab research was collaborated by data supplied by Centers for Disease Control that found high levels of pesticide metabolite in the urine of children receiving treatment for ADHD.

The research has been published In the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB).

These findings provide strong evidence, using data from animal models and humans, that exposure to pyrethroid pesticides, including deltamethrin, may be a risk factor for ADHD, says lead author Jason Richardson, associate professor in the Department and Environmental and Occupational Medicine at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School.

“Although we can’t change genetic susceptibility to ADHD, there may be modifiable environmental factors, including exposures to pesticides that we should be examining in more detail,” says Richardson.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder most often affects children, with an estimated 11 percent of children between the ages of four to 17 — about 6.4 million — diagnosed as of 2011.

Boys are three to four times more likely to be diagnosed than girls. While early symptoms, including an inability to sit still, pay attention, and follow directions, begin between the ages of three to six, diagnosis is usually made after the child starts attending school full time.

A gender difference was found in the study as male mice were affected more than the female mice — a similar ratio to what is observed in children with ADHD.

The ADHD-like behaviors persisted in the mice through adulthood, even though the pesticide, considered to be less toxic and used on golf courses, in the home, and on gardens, lawns and vegetable crops, was no longer detected in their system.

Experts say that while there is strong scientific evidence that genetics plays a role in susceptibility to the disorder, no specific gene has been found that causes ADHD. Furthermore, scientists believe that environmental factors may also contribute to the development of the behavioral condition.

Using data from the Centers for Disease Control, National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) the study analyzed health care questionnaires and urine samples of 2,123 children and adolescents.

Researchers asked parents whether a physician had ever diagnosed their child with ADHD and cross-referenced each child’s prescription drug history to determine if any of the most common ADHD medications had been prescribed.

Children with higher pyrethroid pesticide metabolite levels in their urine were more than twice as likely to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Young children and pregnant women may be more susceptible to pesticide exposure because their bodies do not metabolize the chemicals as quickly.

As a result of the findings, Richardson believes human studies need to be conducted to determine how exposure affects the developing fetus and young children.

“We need to make sure these pesticides are being used correctly and not unduly expose those who may be at a higher risk,” Richardson says.

Source: Rutgers University

Mouse Study: Exposure to Common Pesticide May Increase Risk of ADHD

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Mouse Study: Exposure to Common Pesticide May Increase Risk of ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 23, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 30 Jan 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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