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Environ Health Perspect. 2003 July; 111(9): 1253–1258.
PMCID: PMC1241583
Research Article

Assessment of pre- and postnatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls: lessons from the Inuit Cohort Study.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are food-chain contaminants that have been shown to induce adverse developmental effects in humans. In the course of an epidemiologic study established to investigate neurodevelopmental deficits induced by environmental PCB exposure in the Inuit population of northern Québec (Nunavik, Canada), we compared three biomarkers of prenatal exposure and models to predict PCB plasma concentration at 6 months postpartum. Concentrations of 14 PCB congeners were measured by high-resolution gas chromatography with electron capture detection in lipids extracted from maternal plasma, cord plasma, breast milk (collected at approximately 1 month postpartum), and 6-month-old infant plasma samples. Similar congener profiles were observed in all biologic samples, and PCB-153, the most abundant and persistent PCB congener, was strongly correlated with other frequently detected PCB congeners in all biologic media. When expressed on a lipid basis, maternal plasma, cord plasma, and milk concentrations of this congener were strongly intercorrelated, indicating that PCB concentration in any of these biologic media is a good indicator of prenatal exposure to PCBs. A multivariate model that included maternal PCB-153 plasma lipid concentration, breast-feeding duration, and the sum of two skin-fold thicknesses (an index of infant body fat mass) explained 72% of PCB-153 plasma concentration variance at 6 months postpartum (p < 0.001). By contrast, based on the product of breast-feeding duration times the concentration of PCBs in plasma lipids, which was used as an index of postnatal PCB exposure in several studies, only 36% of infant plasma concentration was explained.

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