Prenatal phthalate exposures and executive function in preschool children


BACKGROUND. Prenatal phthalate exposure has been linked with altered neurodevelopment, including externalizing behaviors and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). However, the implicated metabolite, neurobehavioral endpoint, and child sex have not always been consistent across studies, possibly due to heterogeneity in neurodevelopmental instruments. The complex set of findings may be synthesized using executive function (EF), a construct of complex cognitive processes that facilitate ongoing goal-directed behaviors. Impaired EF can be presented with various phenotypes of poor neurodevelopment, differently across structured conditions, home/community, or preschool/school. We evaluated the relationship between prenatal phthalate exposure and comprehensive assessment of preschool EF. METHODS. Our study comprised 262 children with clinically significant/subthreshold ADHD symptoms and 78 typically developing children who were born between 2003 and 2008 and participated in the Preschool ADHD Substudy, which is nested within a population-based prospective cohort study, the Norwegian Mother, Father, and Child Cohort (MoBa). Twelve phthalate metabolites were measured from urine samples that their mothers had provided during pregnancy, at 17 weeks' gestation. All children, at approximately 3.5-years, took part in a detailed clinical assessment that included parent-and teacher-rated inventories and administered tests. We used instruments that measured constructs related to EF, which include a parent-and teacher-reported Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function-Preschool (BRIEF-P) and three performance-based tests. A Developmental NEuroPSYchological Assessment (NEPSY), Stanford-Binet intelligence test V (SB5), and the cookie delay task (CDT). The standard deviation change in test score per interquartile range (IQR) increase in phthalate metabolite was estimated with multivariable linear regression. We applied weighting in all models to account for the oversampling of children with clinically significant or subthreshold symptoms of ADHD. Additionally, we assessed modification by child sex and potential co-pollutant confounding. RESULTS. Elevated exposure to mono-benzyl phthalate (MBzP) during pregnancy was associated with poorer EF, across all domains and instruments, in both sex. For example, an IQR increase in MBzP was associated with poorer working memory rated by parent (1.23 [95% CI. 0.20, 2.26]) and teacher (1.13 [0.14, 2.13]) using BRIEF-P, and administered tests such as SB5 (no-verbal. 0.19 [0.09, 0.28]; verbal. 0.13 [0.01, 0.25]). Adverse associations were also observed for mono-n-butyl phthalate (MnBP) and mono-iso-butyl phthalate (MiBP), although results varied by instruments. EF domains reported by parents using BRIEF-P were most apparently implicated, with stronger associations among boys (e.g., MnBP and inhibition. 2.74 [1.77, 3.72]; MiBP and inhibition. 1.88 [0.84, 2.92]) than among girls (e.g., MnBP and inhibition. -0.63 [-2.08, 0.83], interaction p-value. 0.04; MiBP and inhibition. -0.15 [-1.04, 0.74], interaction p-value. 0.3). Differences by sex, however, were not found for the teacher-rated BRIEF-P or administered tests including NEPSY, SB5, and CDT. CONCLUSION AND RELEVANCE. Elevated mid-pregnancy MBzP, MiBP, and MnBP were associated with more adverse profiles of EF among preschool-aged children across a range of instruments and raters, with some associations found only among boys. Given our findings and accumulating evidence of the prenatal period as a critical window for phthalate exposure, there is a timely need to expand the current phthalate regulations focused on baby products to include pregnancy exposures.

Environment international (149)
Guido Biele
Guido Biele

My research interests include statistical and cognitive modeling around ADHD.