Heritability estimates indicate that genetic susceptibility does not fully explain Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) risk variance, and that environmental factors may play a role in this disease. To explore the impact of the environment in ASD etiology, we performed a systematic review of the literature on xenobiotics implicated in the disease, and their interactions with gene variants. We compiled 72 studies reporting associations between ASD and xenobiotic exposure, including air pollutants, persistent and non-persistent organic pollutants, heavy metals, pesticides, pharmaceutical drugs and nutrients. Additionally, 9 studies reported that interactions between some of these chemicals (eg. NO2, particulate matter, manganese, folic acid and vitamin D) and genetic risk factors (eg. variants in the CYP2R1, GSTM1, GSTP1, MET, MTHFR and VDR genes) modulate ASD risk. The chemicals highlighted in this review induce neuropathological mechanisms previously implicated in ASD, including oxidative stress and hypoxia, dysregulation of signaling pathways and endocrine disruption. Exposure to xenobiotics may be harmful during critical windows of neurodevelopment, particularly for individuals with variants in genes involved in xenobiotic metabolization or in widespread signaling pathways. We emphasize the importance of leveraging multilevel data collections and integrative approaches grounded on artificial intelligence to address gene–environment interactions and understand ASD etiology, towards prevention and treatment strategies.
Part of the book: Autism Spectrum Disorder