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Your Environment. Your Health.

Flame-retardant Affects Social Behaviors in Prairie Voles

Heather Patisaul, Ph.D.
North Carolina State University
P30ES025128, R01ES016099, R01ES028110, T32ES021432

An NIEHS-funded study showed that early life exposure to FireMaster 550 (FM550), a commonly used flame-retardant mixture, increases anxiety and affects social behaviors in prairie voles. Effects were more pronounced with increasing exposure levels, and female voles were more greatly affected.

Researchers exposed pregnant prairie voles to 0, 500, 1,000, or 2,000 micrograms of FM550 by injecting it under the skin throughout gestation. Their pups were directly exposed beginning the day after birth until weaning. When the pups became adults, the researchers performed multiple behavior tests that assessed anxiety, memory, and sociability, including partner preference.

Normally, voles are highly social and prefer to spend time with other animals, particularly their partners. But voles exposed to FM550, particularly the females, were less social. For example, when given an opportunity to spend time with a female stranger or spend time alone, females exposed to FM550 avoided the stranger. Exposed females were also much more anxious and less likely to explore new spaces. Exposed males also had social deficits, including failing to show a partner preference. The effects were evident at the lowest dose and more pronounced at higher doses.

Prairie voles are not commonly used in toxicology studies but are widely used in the behavioral neuroscience field. According to the authors, the study also demonstrates the utility of the prairie vole for investigating the impact of chemical exposures on social behavior.

Citation: Gillera SEA, Marinello WP, Horman BM, Phillips AL, Ruis MT, Stapleton HM, Reif DM, Patisaul HB. 2019. Sex-specific effects of perinatal FireMaster 550 (FM 550) exposure on socioemotional behavior in prairie voles. Neurotoxicol Teratol; doi: 10.1016/ [Online 12 Nov 2019].

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