Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Prenatal Exposure to PBDEs and Neurodevelopment

Academic journal article Environmental Health Perspectives

Prenatal Exposure to PBDEs and Neurodevelopment

Article excerpt

BACKGROUND: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are widely used flame retardant compounds that are persistent and bioaccumulative and therefore have become ubiquitous environment contaminants. Animal studies suggest that prenatal PBDE exposure may result in adverse neurodevelopmental effects.

OBJECTIVE: In a longitudinal cohort initiated after 11 September 2001, including 329 mothers who delivered in one of three hospitals in lower Manhattan, New York, we examined prenatal PBDE exposure and neurodevelopment when their children were 12-48 and 72 months of age.

METHODS: We analyzed 210 cord blood specimens for selected PBDE congeners and assessed neurodevelopmental effects in the children at 12-48 and 72 months of age; 118, 117, 114, 104, and 96 children with available cord PBDE measurements were assessed at 12, 24, 36, 48, and 72 months, respectively. We used multivariate regression analyses to evaluate the associations between concentrations of individual PBDE congeners and neurodevelopmental indices.

RESULTS: Median cord blood concentrations of PBDE congeners 47, 99, and 100 were 11.2, 3.2, and 1.4 ng/g lipid, respectively. After adjustment for potential confounders, children with higher concentrations of BDEs 47, 99, or 100 scored lower on tests of mental and physical development at 12-48 and 72 months. Associations were significant for 12-month Psychomotor Development Index (BDE-47), 24-month Mental Development Index (MDI) (BDE-47, 99, and 100), 36-month MDI (BDE-100), 48-month full-scale and verbal IQ (BDE-47, 99, and 100) and performance IQ (BDE-100), and 72-month performance IQ (BDE-100).

CONCLUSIONS: This epidemiologic study demonstrates neurodevelopmental effects in relation to cord blood PBDE concentrations. Confirmation is needed in other longitudinal studies.

KEY WORDS: biomarkers, children, neurodevelopment, PBDEs, polybrominated diphenyl ethers, prenatal, World Trade Center, WTC. Environ Health Perspect 118:712-719 (2010). doi:10.1289/ ehp.0901340 [Online 4 January 2010]


Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are widely used flame retardant compounds applied to a wide array of textiles, building materials, and electronic equipment, including computers and televisions. Because they are additives rather than chemically bound to consumer products, they have the propensity to be released into the environment (Darnerud et al. 2001). PBDEs are persistent organic chemicals, and some congeners can bioaccumulate; therefore they have become ubiquitous contaminants detectable in the environment, in animals, and in humans (Hites 2004; Sjodin et al. 2008b).

A number of toxicologic studies have demonstrated that exposure to PBDEs may have endocrine-disrupting effects. Most of these studies have focused on thyroid hormone disruption and a smaller number on disruption of the estrogen/androgen hormone system [reviewed by Darnerud (2008)]. Endocrine disruption during critical developmental periods may result in irreversible effects on differentiating tissue, including the brain (Bigsby et al. 1999). Causal relationships between prenatal exposure to PBDEs and indices of developmental neurotoxicity have been observed in experimental animal models [reviewed by Costa and Giordano (2007)]. Thus, the disruption of endocrine pathways by prenatal exposure to hormonally active environmental chemicals may affect neurodevelopment in children.

Although the association between prenatal exposure to PBDEs and adverse neurodevelopmental effects has been observed in animal models, it has not been adequately explored in human populations. In a longitudinal cohort study initiated by the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health (CCCEH), we examined the impact of prenatal exposures to selected toxicants, including PBDEs, that may be present in the ambient environment but may also have been emitted from the World Trade Center (WTC) buildings in New York City after the 11 September 2001 (9/11) terrorist attack. …

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