The National Institutes of Health have discovered how brominated flame retardants (BFRs) can mimic estrogen hormones and possibly disrupt the body’s endocrine system. BFRs are added chemicals to slow or prevent the start or growth of fire. They are used in many types of consumer goods, including electronics, furniture, building materials, and automobiles.

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Linda Birnbaum, PhD, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of NIH, and National Toxicology Program (NTP) stated, “Using the 3-D imaging capabilities, we can see the flame retardants binding, or attaching, to proteins like estrogens do.”

Dr. Birnbaum and colleagues closely examined one of the most widely used BFRs, tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA). A two-year bioassay study showed that BBPA caused tumors in rat and mice.

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For this study, researchers used X-ray crystallography to build a 3D model of the protein binding to flame retardants. They examined how TBBPA and a metabolite (BDE-47) compared with binding to estrogen sulfotransferase, the enzyme that metabolizes estrogen. The researchers found that TBBPA binds to estrogen sulfotransferase at the same position and in a similar manner as estradiol binds.

People can be exposed to flame retardants through a variety of ways, including diet, products in the home, car, and workplace, and house dust.

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