Mini-brains show how a common drug freezes cell division in the womb and causes birth defects

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Mini-brains show how a common drug freezes cell division in the womb and causes birth defects

Valproic acid – a drug that is commonly used for treatment epilepsy and bipolar disorder – can cause birth defects and developmental disabilities if taken during pregnancy, but the reason for this has long been a mystery. Now, in a study involving mice and human tissue, scientists discovered that the drug puts some embryonic cells in a limbo state where they can’t grow or divide properly.

By forcing important stem cell cells into this state, called senescence, valproic acid can interfere Brain development in the womb and therefore cause cognitive and developmental disabilities down the line, according to the study, published Tuesday (June 14) in the journal PLOS biology (opens in new tab). An estimated 30% to 40% of infants exposed to the drug in utero will develop cognitive impairment or autism spectrum disorders, the study authors noted in their report, and these laboratory studies suggest why that happens.

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