Neurobehavioural and cognitive effects of prenatal exposure to organochlorine compounds in three year old children


Background: We report data of a Belgian observational prospective cohort study regarding cognitive and behavioural development until the age of 36 months in relation to internal exposure to organochlorine pollutants [sum of polychlorinated biphenyls (sum PCB), dioxin-like activity, PCB118, PCB170, hexachlorobenzene (HCB) and p,p’-dichlorodiphenyldichloroethylene (DDE)] measured in cord blood. Methods: Participants were recruited as part of an Flemish Environmental Health Survey (2002-2006). Two hundred and six mother-child pairs were recruited. Hundred twenty five toddlers [Reynell Taal Ontwikkelings Schalen (language development, RTOS), Snijders-Oomen Niet-verbale intelligentietest (non-verbal intelligence, SON), Bayley Scales, milestones, Infant Behaviour Questionnaire (IBQ), gender specific play behaviour, Neurobehavioral Evaluation System (NES)-attentional task] and their mothers [Home Observation Measurement of the Environment (HOME), Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (WASI), State-Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI), general questionnaires] were tested. Statistical analysis was performed with the SPSS program. Much attention was paid to confounding factors. Results: In the first years of development, higher organochlorine pollutants were associated with less active children (delayed crawling: sum PCB*HCB (p < 0.05), sumPCB*DDE (p < 0.1); delayed first steps alone: sum PCB (p < 0.5), PCB118 (p < 0.01), PCB170 (p < 0.01), HCB (p < 0.01); less switching between toys: sum PCB (p < 0.01); less switching between toys in boys: PCB118 (p < 0.01), sum PCB(p < 0.01)). At 12 months children with higher dioxin-like activity tended to show less fear responses(p < 0.1) (IBQ 12 months). At 36 months, a slower development of language comprehension (RTOS) was related to all organochlorine exposure parameters(p < 0.1 or p < 0.05) except DDE. Lower nonverbal IQ scores (SON) were related to PCB118 in boys only(p < 0.05 or p < 0.01). Less masculine and more non-gender specific play behaviour was associated with sum PCB in boys and girls at 36 months(p < 0.1). Moreover, PCB118 (p < 0.05), PCB170 (p < 0.1), HCB(p < 0.05) and DDE(p < 0.05) were associated with diminished masculine play behaviour in boys.

Conclusion: Our data confirm the observations that neurobehavioral development of young children is adversely influenced by environmental concentrations of PCBs, especially in boys. In this context, observation of play behaviour seems to be a reliable, easy to perform and sensitive test to detect neurotoxic effects of chemicals like PCB’s and dioxin-like compounds in very young children. On the basis of our results, we hypothesize that an underarrousal pattern may play a role in the spectrum of effects measured in toddlers prenatally exposed to PCBs and dioxin-like compounds.

Authors: Griet Vermeir, Adrian Covaci, Nik Van Larebeke, Greet Schoeters, Vera Nelen, Gudrun Koppen, Mineke Viaene
; Full Source: BMC pediatrics 2021 Feb 26;21(1):99. doi: 10.1186/s12887-021-02533-2.