Supposedly ‘Safe’ Plastics Substitute One Toxin for Another Interview with:
Elisabeth Schirmer

Doctoral student
University of Bayreuth, Germany

plastics-bpa-bisphenols What is the background for this study?

Response: Bisphenol A (BPA) is worldwide one of the most frequently used plasticizers. Over time it has been shown that BPA interferes with developmental processes in vertebrates, i.e. brain development. It is therefore increasingly being substituted by supposedly safe plasticizers like bisphenol S (BPS). What are the main findings?

Response: In the current study, we demonstrate that both BPA and BPS cause severe effects that are not restricted to developing brains. Using intracellular in vivo recording in an identified neuron, we show their strikingly strong and uncompensated impact on all aspects of neuronal function in the mature vertebrate brain, whose powerful homeostatic mechanisms could potentially compensate any effects seen in isolated neurons. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: The release of new developed and supposedly safe substitutes in the environment provides a present risk for our health and replacing one toxic chemical by another cannot be the method of choice. The strong effects we find here and the apparent lack of efficient buffering are alarming. However, on the more optimistic side, our findings demonstrate that it is possible to quickly gain sensitive information on basic neuronal functions by using multisensory integration in identified neurons as a powerful tool. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Our findings call for new approaches to speed up the development and efficient pre-testing of alternative plasticizers. Specifically, we recommend the assay we describe here to be part of a battery of efficient tests in the development of next-generation plasticizers. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: The current study would not have been possible without funding by a Reinhart Koselleck (Schu1470/8) project of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation). Additionally, data acquisition and analysis for this study would not have been possible without the help of numerous students, whom I would like to thank for their support.


Elisabeth Schirmer, Stefan Schuster, Peter Machnik. Bisphenols exert detrimental effects on neuronal signaling in mature vertebrate brains. Communications Biology, 2021; 4 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s42003-021-01966-w

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