Association of Exposure to Diethylstilbestrol During Pregnancy With Multigenerational Neurodevelopmental Deficits

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Abstract

Importance

Animal evidence suggests that endocrine disruptors affect germline cells and neurodevelopment. However, to date, the third-generation neurodevelopmental outcomes in humans have not been examined.

Objective

To explore the potential consequences of exposure to diethylstilbestrol or DES across generations—specifically, third-generation neurodevelopment.

Design, Setting, and Participants

This cohort study uses self-reported health information, such as exposure to diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) diagnosis, from 47 540 participants enrolled in the ongoing Nurses’ Health Study II. The 3 generations analyzed in this study were the participants (F1 generation), their mothers (F0 generation), and their live-born children (F2 generation).

Main Outcomes and Measures

Participant- and mother-reported exposure to diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy and physician-diagnosed child ADHD.

Results

The total number of women included in this study was 47 540. Of the 47 540 F0 mothers, 861 (1.8%) used diethylstilbestrol and 46 679 (98.2%) did not while pregnant with the F1 participants. Use of diethylstylbestrol by F0 mothers was associated with an increased risk of ADHD among the F2 generation: 7.7% vs 5.2%, adjusted odds ratio (OR), 1.36 (95% CI, 1.10-1.67) and an OR of 1.63 (95% CI, 1.18-2.25) if diethylstilbestrol was taken during the first trimester of pregnancy. No effect modification was observed by the F2 children’s sex.

Conclusions and Relevance

This study provides evidence that diethylstilbestrol exposure is associated with multigenerational neurodevelopmental deficits. The doses and potency level of environmental endocrine disruptors to which humans are exposed are lower than those of diethylstilbestrol, but the prevalence of such exposure and the possibility of cumulative action are potentially high and thus warrant consideration.

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