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Associations of prenatal exposure to a mixture of persistent organic pollutants with social traits and cognitive and adaptive function in early childhood: Findings from the EARLI study

Literature suggests that maternal exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) may influence child neurodevelopment. Evidence linking prenatal POPs and autism spectrum disorder has been inconclusive and few studies have examined the mixture effect of the POPs on autism-related traits. To evaluate the associations between prenatal exposure to a mixture of POPs and autism-related traits in children from the Early Autism Risk Longitudinal Investigation study. Maternal serum concentrations of 17 POPs (11 polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], 4 polybrominated diphenyls [PBDEs], and 2 persistent pesticides) in 154 samples collected during pregnancy were included in this analysis. We examined the independent associations of the natural log-transformed POPs with social, cognitive, and behavioral traits at 36 months of age, including Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), Mullen Scales of Early Learning-Early Learning Composite (MSEL-ELC), and Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales (VABS) scores, using linear regression models. We applied Bayesian kernel machine regression and quantile g-computation to examine the joint effect and interactions of the POPs. Higher ln-PBDE47 was associated with greater deficits in social reciprocity (higher SRS score) (β = 6.39, 95% CI: 1.12, 11.65) whereas higher ln-p,p’-DDE was associated with lower social deficits (β = -8.34, 95% CI: -15.32, -1.37). Positive associations were observed between PCB180 and PCB187 and cognitive (MSEL-ELC) scores (β = 5.68, 95% CI: 0.18, 11.17; β = 4.65, 95% CI: 0.14, 9.17, respectively). Adaptive functioning (VABS) scores were positively associated with PCB170, PCB180, PCB187, PCB196/203, and p,p’-DDE. In the mixture analyses, we did not observe an overall mixture effect of POPs on the quantitative traits. Potential interactions between PBDE99 and other PBDEs were identified in association with MSEL-ELC scores. We observed independent effects of PCB180, PCB187, PBDE47, and p,p’ DDE with ASD-related quantitative traits and potential interactions between PBDEs. Our findings highlight the importance of assessing the effect of POPs as a mixture.

Authors: Song, Ashley Y;Kauffman, Elizabeth M;Hamra, Ghassan B;Dickerson, Aisha S;Croen, Lisa A;Hertz-Picciotto, Irva;Schmidt, Rebecca J;Newschaffer, Craig J;Fallin, M Daniele;Lyall, Kristen;Volk, Heather E

Environ Res. 2023 Jul 15;229:115978. Epub 2023-04-26.

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