Valproic acid—a well knowndrug used to treat epilepsy, migraine, and bipolar disorder—can cause birth defects when taken during pregnancy. Now, a study published in the journal PLOS Biology reveals one reason why. That being that valproic acid (VPA) puts some cells of the developing nervous system into senescence, a kind of halted state that keeps them from growing and dividing correctly.

In this new study, the researchers used Both human organoids—three-dimensional clusters of human cells grown in the lab—as well as mice to study embryonic exposure to VPA.

They discovered that VPA induces cellular senescence in neuroepithelial cells, the stem cells that give rise to the central nervous system.

Hence, the authors said that the work is one of the first to associate cellular senescence with developmental defects and overall, the discovery that atypical activation of senescence in the embryo can perturb development. This raises the intriguing possibility that it may also contribute to defects in developmental contexts beyond those that are studied.

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