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Your Environment. Your Health.

Neurodevelopmental Diseases

Program Leads

Annette G. Kirshner
Annette Kirshner, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
530 Davis Dr
Durham, NC 27713
Tel (919) 541-0488
Fax (919) 541-5064
Cindy Lawler
Cindy Lawler, Ph.D.
Branch Chief
530 Davis Dr
Durham, NC 27713
Tel (919) 316-4671
Fax (919) 541-5064


Program Description


The prenatal period and childhood are critical times in brain development. Thus early exposure to pesticides, metals, and other contaminants could adversely affect normal brain development. Environmental health scientists are working to uncover how genetics and early environmental exposures may interact to lead to autism spectrum disorders, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and other neurodevelopmental problems.


Although scientists do not know exactly what causes autism, genetics and early environmental exposures could play a role in this neurodevelopmental disorder. In fact, recent research suggests that there may be a larger environmental contribution to autism risk than previously thought.


What NIEHS is doing


NIEHS supports researchers who are investigating whether pesticides, air pollution, or common chemicals might increase the risk for autism. NIEHS-funded researchers from the University of California School of Medicine in Davis recently published an important study showing evidence of a gene-environment interaction in autism. Although more work is needed, the study showed that prenatal vitamins might reduce the risk of having children with autism, especially for genetically susceptible mothers and children.


Grantees are also examining how exposure to lead, mercury, estrogen, pesticides, and air pollution might affect a child’s neurodevelopment, IQ, learning, and behavior. For example, research from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health is showing that developmental delays are resulting from chronic exposure to air pollution and to a chemical found in residential pest-control products.


NIEHS-supported research is increasing our understanding about how environmental exposures early in life affect neurodevelopment and will help identify who is the most vulnerable to these exposures.   

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