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Environ Health Perspect. 2004 March; 112(3): 388–391.
PMCID: PMC1241872
Research Article

In utero pesticide exposure, maternal paraoxonase activity, and head circumference.


Although the use of pesticides in inner-city homes of the United States is of considerable magnitude, little is known about the potentially adverse health effects of such exposure. Recent animal data suggest that exposure to pesticides during pregnancy and early life may impair growth and neurodevelopment in the offspring. To investigate the relationship among prenatal pesticide exposure, paraoxonase (PON1) polymorphisms and enzyme activity, and infant growth and neurodevelopment, we are conducting a prospective, multiethnic cohort study of mothers and infants delivered at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. In this report we evaluate the effects of pesticide exposure on birth weight, length, head circumference, and gestational age among 404 births between May 1998 and May 2002. Pesticide exposure was assessed by a prenatal questionnaire administered to the mothers during the early third trimester as well as by analysis of maternal urinary pentachlorophenol levels and maternal metabolites of chlorpyrifos and pyrethroids. Neither the questionnaire data nor the pesticide metabolite levels were associated with any of the fetal growth indices or gestational age. However, when the level of maternal PON1 activity was taken into account, maternal levels of chlorpyrifos above the limit of detection coupled with low maternal PON1 activity were associated with a significant but small reduction in head circumference. In addition, maternal PON1 levels alone, but not PON1 genetic polymorphisms, were associated with reduced head size. Because small head size has been found to be predictive of subsequent cognitive ability, these data suggest that chlorpyrifos may have a detrimental effect on fetal neurodevelopment among mothers who exhibit low PON1 activity.

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Selected References

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