An antibacterial chemical widely used in hand soaps and other personal-care products may impair muscle function, scientists claim.
Researchers at the University of California, Davis, and the University of Colorado found that the chemical, Triclosan, hinders muscle contractions at a cellular level, slows swimming in fish and reduces muscular strength in mice.
“Triclosan is found in virtually everyone’s home and is pervasive in the environment. These findings provide strong evidence that the chemical is of concern to both human and environmental health,” said Isaac Pessah, professor and chair of the Department of Molecular Biosciences in the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator of the study.
Triclosan is commonly found in antibacterial personal-care products such as hand soaps as well as deodorants, mouthwashes, toothpaste, bedding, clothes, carpets, toys and trash bags.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1998 estimated that more than 1 million pounds of triclosan are produced annually in the United States, and that the chemical is detectable in waterways and aquatic organisms ranging from algae to fish to dolphins, as well as in human urine, blood and breast milk.
The investigators performed several experiments to evaluate the effects of triclosan on muscle activity, using doses similar to those that people and animals may be exposed to during everyday life.
In “test tube” experiments, triclosan impaired the ability of isolated heart muscle cells and skeletal muscle fibers to contract. Specifically, the team evaluated the effects of triclosan on molecular channels in muscle cells that control the flow of calcium ions, creating muscle contractions.
Normally, electrical stimulation (“excitation”) of isolated muscle fibers under experimental conditions evokes a muscle contraction, a phenomenon known as “excitation-contraction coupling” (ECC), the fundamental basis of any muscle movement, including heartbeats. But in the presence of triclosan, the normal communication between two proteins that function as calcium channels was impaired, causing skeletal and cardiac muscle failure.
The team also found that triclosan impairs heart and skeletal muscle contractility in living animals. Anesthetized mice had up to a 25-per cent reduction in heart function measures within 20 minutes of exposure to the chemical.
“The effects of triclosan on cardiac function were really dramatic. Although triclosan is not regulated as a drug, this compound acts like a potent cardiac depressant in our models,” said Nipavan Chiamvimonvat, professor of cardiovascular medicine at UC Davis and a study co-author.
In addition, the mice had an 18-per cent reduction in grip strength for up to 60 minutes after being given a single dose of triclosan. Grip strength is a widely used measure of mouse limb strength, employed to investigate the effects of drugs and neuromuscular disorders.
Finally, the investigators looked at the effects of triclosan exposure on fathead minnows, a small fish commonly used as a model organism for studying the potential impacts of aquatic pollutants. Those exposed to triclosan in the water for seven days had significantly reduced swimming activity compared to controls during both normal swimming and swim tests designed to imitate fish being threatened by a predator.
The UC Davis research team has previously linked triclosan to other potentially harmful health effects, including disruption of reproductive hormone activity and of cell signaling in the brain.
Chiamvimonvat cautioned that translating results from animal models to humans is a large step and would require further study. However, the fact that the effects were so striking in several animal models under different experimental conditions provides strong evidence that triclosan could have effects on animal and human health at current levels of exposure.
The findings appeared online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.