Sex differences in sensitivity to prenatal and early childhood manganese exposure on neuromotor function in adolescents

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While studies have suggested that exposure to manganese (Mn) may be associated with neurodevelopment in school-age children, there is limited information on prenatal and postnatal Mn exposures and tremor or motor function in children.


We measured Mn levels in dentine of shed teeth, representing prenatal, early postnatal, and cumulative childhood exposure windows, from 195 children (predominantly right-handed, 92%) in Italy. Pursuit Aiming, Luria Nebraska Motor Battery, as well as Tremor and Sway system from Computerized Adaptive Testing System (CATSYS) were administered at 11–14 years old. We examined the relationships of tooth Mn (ln-transformed) with motor function using multivariable linear regressions and generalized additive models, adjusting for age, sex, and socioeconomic status index. Effect modification by sex was also examined.


We found that higher prenatal Mn was associated with better body stability in boys in a number of sway tests (including mean sway, transversal sway, sagittal sway, sway area, and sway intensity), while Mn was associated with poorer performance in girls on all of these metrics (all p for Mn × sex interaction < 0.05). Higher prenatal Mn was also modestly associated with better hand/finger and eye-hand coordination in boys compared to girls in sex-stratified analyses, although interaction models did not reach statistical significance. For tremor, on the other hand, higher early postnatal Mn was associated with increased right-hand center frequency in girls (p for interaction < 0.01), but increased Mn level at the later postnatal period was associated with increased center frequency in boys (p for interaction = 0.01).


This study, which used a direct measure of prenatal and childhood Mn exposure, suggested sex-specific critical windows of early life Mn exposure in relation to neuromotor function in adolescents. The sex-specific associations might be strongest with measures of whole body stability, for which the critical exposure window was during the prenatal period.

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