Simple reaction time in 8–9-year old children environmentally exposed to PCBs

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Simple reaction time (SRT) has been studied in children exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), with variable results. In the current work we examined SRT in 146 boys and 161 girls, aged 8.53 ± 0.65 years (mean ± SD), exposed to PCBs in the environment of eastern Slovakia. We divided the children into tertiles with regard to increasing PCB serum concentration. The mean ± SEM serum concentration of the sum of 15 PCB congeners was 191.15 ± 5.39, 419.23 ± 8.47, and 1315.12 ± 92.57 ng/g lipids in children of the first, second, and third tertiles, respectively. We created probability distribution plots for each child from their multiple trials of the SRT testing. We fitted response time distributions from all valid trials with the ex-Gaussian function, a convolution of a normal and an additional exponential function, providing estimates of three independent parameters μ, σ, and τ. μ is the mean of the normal component, σ is the standard deviation of the normal component, and τ is the mean of the exponential component. Group response time distributions were calculated using the Vincent averaging technique. A Q-Q plot comparing probability distribution of the first vs. third tertile indicated that deviation of the quantiles of the latter tertile from those of the former begins at the 40th percentile and does not show a positive acceleration. This was confirmed in comparison of the ex-Gaussian parameters of these two tertiles adjusted for sex, age, Raven IQ of the child, mother's and father's education, behavior at home and school, and BMI: the results showed that the parameters μ and τ significantly (p ≤ 0.05) increased with PCB exposure. Similar increases of the ex-Gaussian parameter τ in children suffering from ADHD have been previously reported and interpreted as intermittent attentional lapses, but were not seen in our cohort. Our study has confirmed that environmental exposure of children to PCBs is associated with prolongation of simple reaction time reflecting impairment of cognitive functions.

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