Pollution , Environment and Autism

Maternal Serum Persistent Organic Pollutants in the Finnish Prenatal Study of Autism: A Pilot Study.


Department of Epidemiology, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, New York, NY, United States


Recent research emphasizes the contribution of environmental as well as genetic factors to the etiology of autism but studies testing associations between chemical exposures and autism have been limited.

Prenatal exposure to persistent organic pollutants (POPs) has previously been associated with decrements in cognitive and developmental performance.

We conducted a pilot study in the Finnish Prenatal Study of Autism (FiPS-A). Seventy-five cases with autism and 75 controls matched on sex, birth year, urbanization and maternal age were sampled from first-born children in the Finnish Maternity Cohort, which includes over 1 million births.

The study sample included births occurring from 1991 to 2000. Subjects were followed up for autism through 2007. DDT, DDE, PCB-118, PCB-138, PCB-153, PCB-156, PCB-170, PCB-180, hexachlorobenzene, and BDE-47 were measured in archived maternal serum samples taken during pregnancy using gas chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry. Correlations between pollutant measures were assessed and mechanistically-related weighting schemes for summarizing PCB levels were compared. Case and control differences were assessed using graphical and statistical methods.

All analytes, with the exception of DDT and BDE-47, were detected above the limit of quantification in all samples.

The correlation between levels of individual PCB congeners and weighted summary measures was high (0.71-1.00). Paired t-tests revealed no significant differences between cases and controls for log-transformed mean values of any analyte; however, in an adjusted model the odds ratio for autism was 1.91 (p=0.29) and 1.79 (p=0.36) respectively, for subjects with total PCBs and DDE above the 90th percentile of control values.

Levels of prenatal PCB exposure in FIPS-A were similar to levels previously correlated with poorer neurodevelopmental measures in other populations.

Further study in a larger sample will be required to fully determine whether exposure to high POP levels are associated with autism diagnosis in the population.

This entry was posted in Autism, Environment, Neurology, Physiology. Bookmark the permalink.

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