Polychlorinated biphenyls in colostral milk and visual function at 12 months of life

E. Riva, F. Grandi, N. Massetto, G. Radaelli, M. Giovannini, R. Zetterström, C. Agostoni

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and aims: Environmental contaminants such as persistent organic chlorines and heavy metals, which are supplied to the foetus by transplacental transfer and to breastfed infants by the milk, may impair cognitive functions. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are known to enhance development during foetal life and early infancy, may counteract the toxic effect of environmental contaminants. In this study, we have investigated whether polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) impair early development of vision, and whether such impairment can be modulated by essential long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids. Material: Healthy term infants born in Milan and its surroundings, and who were exclusively breastfed for at least 4 mo, were prospectively examined up to the age of 12 mo. Methods: Samples from colostrums, the first 2 d after delivery, and of mature breast-milk after 1 and 3 mo were collected. The samples were analyzed for PCB 105, 118, 138, 153, 156 and 180 and for DDT and DDE. In all infants, the plasma levels of the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LC-PUFAs), C18:2 n-6, C18:3 n-3, C20:4 n-6, C20:5 n-3 and C22:6 n-3 were analysed within the first three postnatal days. The PCB levels in colostral milk, as well as of LC-PUFAs in plasma, were considered to mirror perinatal supply. Visual function was evaluated by P100 with latency evoked potentials (VEPs) at 12 mo of age. Statistical analysis was based on simple and partial correlation coefficients (p <0.05). Results: On bivariate analysis, wave latency VEP at 15 min was significantly related to the colostral levels of DDT, DDE and all examined PCBs except PCB 105 (with correlation coefficient r = 0.401 to 0.618), whereas P100 wave latency VEP at 60 min was related to DDT (r = 0.513) and PCB 180 (r = 0.504). Infant plasma levels of C22:6 n-3 were inversely associated with P100 wave latency at 60 min (r = -0.418) and at 1 Hz-2 J (r = -0.466). After controlling for C22:6 n-3, the partial correlation coefficient of P100 wave latency VEP at 15 min to the colostral level of PCB 180 was 0.403 (p = 0.07). Conclusion: Within the population of this study, a weak relation was found between impaired visual function at 12 mo of age of healthy infants and the levels of PCBs, DDT and DDE in colostral milk. The effect of impairment was no longer evident after controlling for the plasma level of LC-PUFAs as found in the infant a few days after birth.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1103-1107
Number of pages5
JournalActa Paediatrica, International Journal of Paediatrics
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2004


  • Human milk
  • Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids
  • PCBs
  • Perinatal exposure
  • Visual development

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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