New research in the journal Cell Communication and Signaling links high lipid levels in pregnant women to a disruption in early prenatal brain development and autism. Environmental causes, such as exposure to chemicals in cosmetics, can lead to higher lipid levels, which in turn influences the interaction between two key neural pathways linked to autism. Cosmetics come into play because a number of lipids, including ceramides, cholesterol, and palmitic acid, are often on the ingredient list to help rebuild the skin’s lipid barrier and restore a youthful appearance. Such formulations containing lipids may have a detrimental effect on the developing fetus when used during pregnancy. “We have found that the abnormal level of a lipid molecule called prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) in the brain can affect the function of Wnt proteins,” says Dorota Crawford, Ph.D., assistant professor of kinesiology and health science at York University (Toronto). “It is important because this can change the course of early embryonic development.” Real time imaging microscopy helped researchers single out this cross-talk connection for the first time.