Chapel Hill -- An ingredient found in many shampoos and other personal care products appears to interfere with normal brain development in baby mice when applied to the skin of pregnant mice, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill researchers have discovered.
When Diethanolamine (DEA) was applied to the skin of pregnant mice, the fetuses showed inhibited cell growth and increased cell death in an area of the brain responsible for memory - the hippocampus.
Previous research on DEA has focused on its potential as a carcinogen. The current study is the first exploration of the compound's affect on brain development.
The finding needs further study and should not cause undue alarm, said Dr. Steven Zeisel, Kenan Distinguished University Professor of nutrition in UNC's schools of public health and medicine and associate dean for research in the School of Public Health.
"I don't believe any woman who's been using these products needs to have a sleepless night about having caused harm to her child," Zeisel said.
"At this point it is a caution," he added. "But it would probably be prudent to look at labels and try to limit exposure until we know more."
The study is featured as the cover story in the August issue of the FASEB journal, published by The Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology.
In addition to Zeisel, other authors of the study are UNC nutrition research analyst Corneliu N. Craciunescu and postdoctoral research associate Dr. Renan Wu.
DEA appears to block the body's ability to absorb the nutrient choline, which Zeisel has previously reported is essential for normal development of the brain. A pregnant woman requires extra choline so that she can pass the nutrient on to the fetus. "You need choline to build a baby," Zeisel said.
More than 100,000 tons of DEA are sold in the United States each year. It is used as a wetting or thickening agent in not o
Contact: Clinton Colmenares
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill