Pregnancy exposome and child psychomotor development in three European birth cohorts

Gemma Calamandrei, Laura Ricceri, Ettore Meccia, Anna Maria Tartaglione, Milena Horvat, Janja Snoj Tratnik, Darja Mazej, Zdravko Špirić, Igor Prpić, Inge Vlašić-Cicvarić, David Neubauer, Jana Kodrič, Staša Stropnik, Beata Janasik, Renata Kuraś, Fiorino Mirabella, Kinga Polańska, Flavia Chiarotti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Characterization of the exposome, the totality of all environmental factors that one is exposed to from conception onwards, has been recommended to better evaluate the role of environmental influences on developmental programming and life-course vulnerability to major chronic diseases. In the framework of the Health and Environment-wide Associations based on Large population Surveys (HEALS) project we considered the pregnancy exposome exploiting two databases (PHIME and REPRO_PL) that include birth cohorts from three EU countries (Croatia, Slovenia and Poland). The databases contained information on several chemical exposures, socio-demographic, lifestyle and health related factors from conception to child birth, and neuropsychological scores assessed by the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development in the first two years of life. Our main goal was to assess consistency of environmental influences on neurodevelopment, if any, across European countries differing for geographical, socio-demographic characteristics and levels of chemical exposures to metals such as lead (Pb), mercury (Hg), cadmium (Cd) and trace elements, including micronutrients such as zinc (Zn) and selenium (Se). To this aim, we first selected variables common to the different databases, then applied univariate and multivariate regression analyses to identify factors linked to neurodevelopment, and finally performed meta-analysis to detect potential heterogeneity among cohorts and pooled estimates. Significant differences in exposure levels among the three sub-cohorts were observed as for Hg and Se; exposure levels under study were relatively low and within the range described in existing EU biomonitoring studies. The univariate analyses did not show any common pattern of association as only in the Polish cohort chemical exposure had an impact on neuropsychological outcome. In the meta-analysis, some consistent trends were evident, relative to the adverse influence of Pb on children's language and cognition and the positive influence of Se on language abilities. The effects of the neurotoxic metal Hg positively influenced the motor scores in the Polish cohorts, while it decreased the motor scores in the Slovenia and Croatian sub-cohorts. The only socio-demographic factor consistently associated to the outcome among cohorts was child's sex, with females performing better than males on cognitive and language scores. These findings point to the need of harmonizing existing cohorts or creating prospective study designs that facilitate comparisons in the exposome over time, places and kind of environmental exposures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108856
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2020


  • Developmental neurotoxicity
  • Metals
  • Micronutrients
  • Prenatal exposure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • Environmental Science(all)


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