Prenatal exposure to mercury and longitudinally assessed fetal growth: Relation and effect modifiers

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Abstract

Background

Prenatal mercury exposure has been related to reductions in anthropometry at birth. Levels of mercury have been reported as being relatively elevated in the Spanish population.

Objective

To investigate the relation between prenatal exposure to mercury and fetal growth.

Methods

Study subjects were pregnant women and their newborns (n:1867) participating in a population-based birth cohort study set up in four Spanish regions from the INMA Project. Biparietal diameter (BPD), femur length (FL), abdominal circumference (AC), and estimated fetal weight (EFW) were measured by ultrasounds at 12, 20, and 34 weeks of gestation. Size at and growth between these points were assessed by standard deviation (SD) scores adjusted for constitutional characteristics. Total mercury (T-Hg) was determined in cord blood. Associations were investigated by linear regression models, adjusted by sociodemographic, environmental, nutritional – including four seafood groups – and lifestyle-related variables in each sub-cohort. Final estimates were obtained using meta-analysis. Effect modification by sex, seafood intake and polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) congener 153 concentration was assessed.

Results

Geometric mean of cord blood T-Hg was 8.2 μg/L. All the estimates of the association between prenatal Hg and growth from 0 to 12 weeks showed reductions in SD-scores, which were only statistically significant for BPD. A doubling of cord blood T-Hg was associated with a 0.58% reduction in size of BPD at week 12 (95% confidence interval -CI-: − 1.10, − 0.07). Size at week 34 showed estimates suggestive of a small reduction in EFW, i.e., a doubling of T-Hg levels was associated with a reduction of 0.38% (95% CI: − 0.91, 0.15). An interaction between PCB153 and T-Hg was found, with statistically significant negative associations of T-Hg with AC and EFW in late pregnancy among participants with PCB153 below the median.

Conclusions

Exposure to mercury during pregnancy was associated with early reductions in BPD. Moreover, an antagonism with PCB 153 was observed with noteworthy reductions late in pregnancy in AC and EFW in the group with lower PCB153.

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