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1.  A Mechanism for the Inhibition of Neural Progenitor Cell Proliferation by Cocaine 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(6):e117.
Prenatal exposure of the developing brain to cocaine causes morphological and behavioral abnormalities. Recent studies indicate that cocaine-induced proliferation inhibition and/or apoptosis in neural progenitor cells may play a pivotal role in causing these abnormalities. To understand the molecular mechanism through which cocaine inhibits cell proliferation in neural progenitors, we sought to identify the molecules that are responsible for mediating the effect of cocaine on cell cycle regulation.
Methods and Findings
Microarray analysis followed by quantitative real-time reverse transcription PCR was used to screen cocaine-responsive and cell cycle-related genes in a neural progenitor cell line where cocaine exposure caused a robust anti-proliferative effect by interfering with the G1-to-S transition. Cyclin A2, among genes related to the G1-to-S cell cycle transition, was most strongly down-regulated by cocaine. Down-regulation of cyclin A was also found in cocaine-treated human primary neural and A2B5+ progenitor cells, as well as in rat fetal brains exposed to cocaine in utero. Reversing cyclin A down-regulation by gene transfer counteracted the proliferation inhibition caused by cocaine. Further, we found that cocaine-induced accumulation of reactive oxygen species, which involves N-oxidation of cocaine via cytochrome P450, promotes cyclin A down-regulation by causing an endoplasmic reticulum (ER) stress response, as indicated by increased phosphorylation of eIF2α and expression of ATF4. In the developing rat brain, the P450 inhibitor cimetidine counteracted cocaine-induced inhibition of neural progenitor cell proliferation as well as down-regulation of cyclin A.
Our results demonstrate that down-regulation of cyclin A underlies cocaine-induced proliferation inhibition in neural progenitors. The down-regulation of cyclin A is initiated by N-oxidative metabolism of cocaine and consequent ER stress. Inhibition of cocaine N-oxidative metabolism by P450 inhibitors may provide a preventive strategy for counteracting the adverse effects of cocaine on fetal brain development.
Investigating the mechanism of cocaine's effect on fetal brain development, Chun-Ting Lee and colleagues find that down-regulation of cyclin A by a cocaine metabolite inhibits neural proliferation.
Editors' Summary
Every year, cocaine abuse by mothers during pregnancy exposes thousands of unborn infants (fetuses) to this powerful and addictive stimulant. Maternal cocaine abuse during early pregnancy increases the risk of miscarriage; its use during late pregnancy slows the baby's growth and can trigger premature labor. Babies exposed to cocaine shortly before birth are often irritable and have disturbed sleep patterns. They can also be very sensitive to sound and touch and consequently hard to comfort. These problems usually resolve spontaneously within the first few weeks of life but some permanent birth defects are also associated with frequent cocaine abuse during pregnancy. In particular, babies exposed to cocaine before birth sometimes have small heads—an abnormality that generally indicates a small brain—and, although they usually have normal intelligence, the development of their thinking skills and language is often delayed, and they can have behavioral problems.
Why Was This Study Done?
Exposure to cocaine before birth clearly interferes with some aspects of brain development. More specifically, it reduces the number and position of neurons (the cells that transmit information in the form of electrical impulses around the body) within the brain. All neurons develop from neural progenitor cells, and previous research suggests that cocaine exposure before birth inhibits the proliferation of these cells in the developing brain. It would be useful to understand exactly how cocaine affects neural progenitor cells, because it might then be possible to prevent the drug's adverse effects on brain development. In this study, therefore, the researchers investigate the molecular mechanism that underlies cocaine's effect on neural progenitor cells.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
When the researchers investigated the effects of cocaine on AF5 cells (rat neural progenitor cells that grow indefinitely in the laboratory), they found that concentrations of cocaine similar to those measured in fetal brains after maternal drug exposure inhibited the proliferation of AF5 cells by blocking the “G1-to-S transition.” This is a stage that cells have to pass through between each round of cell division (the production of two daughter cells from one parent cell). Next, the researchers showed that cocaine-treated AF5 cells made much less cyclin A2, a protein that controls the G1-to-S transition, than untreated cells. Cocaine also decreased cyclin A2 levels in neural progenitor cells freshly isolated from human fetal brains and in fetal rat brains exposed to the drug while in their mother's womb. Treatment of AF5 cells with a cyclin A2 expression vector (a piece of DNA that directs the production of cyclin A2) counteracted the down-regulation of cyclin A2 and restored AF5 proliferation in the presence of cocaine. Other experiments indicate that the reduction of cyclin A2 by cocaine in AF5 cells involves the accumulation of “reactive oxygen species,” by-products of the breakdown of cocaine by a protein that is a member of a family of proteins called cytochrome P450. Finally, treatment of pregnant rats with cimetidine (which inhibits the action of cytochrome P450) counteracted both the inhibition of neural progenitor cell proliferation and the cyclin A2 down-regulation that cocaine exposure induced in the brains of their unborn pups.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that the cocaine-induced inhibition of neural progenitor cell proliferation involves, at least in part, interfering with the production (that is, causing down-regulation) of cyclin A2. They also show that this down-regulation is induced by the breakdown of cocaine by cytochrome P450, and that in both a rat cell line and in fetal rats, the cytochrome P450 inhibitor cimetidine (a drug that is already used clinically for stomach problems) can block the adverse effects of cocaine on the proliferation of neural progenitor cells. These findings need to be confirmed in animals more closely related to people than rats, and the long-term effects of cimetidine need to be investigated, in particular its effects on cocaine toxicity. Nevertheless these results raise the possibility that giving cimetidine or other drugs with similar effects to pregnant women who are addicted to cocaine might prevent some of the harm that their drug habit does to their unborn children, although it is not clear whether there is a dosage of cimetidine that might be both safe and adequate for this purpose.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A PLoS Medicine Perspective article by Steven Hyman further discusses this study
The US National Institute on Drug Abuse provides a fact sheet on cocaine (in English and Spanish)
The UK charity Release provides information and advice to the public and professionals about the law and drugs, including information about cocaine
MedlinePlus also provides a list of links to information about cocaine (in English and Spanish)
The March of Dimes Foundation, a US nonprofit organization for the improvement of child health, provides information about illicit drug use during pregnancy (in English and Spanish)
The Organization of Teratology Information Specialists also provides a fact sheet on cocaine and pregnancy (in English, Spanish, and French)
PMCID: PMC2504032  PMID: 18593214
2.  Level of Prenatal Cocaine Exposure and Scores on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development: Modifying Effects of Caregiver, Early Intervention, and Birth Weight 
Pediatrics  2002;110(6):1143-1152.
The objectives of this study were 1) to assess whether there is an independent association between the level of prenatal cocaine exposure and infants’ developmental test scores after control of potential confounding variables; and 2) if such an association exists, to determine which biological and social variables, individually and in interaction with each other, may modify it.
In a prospective, longitudinal study of 203 urban term infants, 3 cocaine exposure groups were defined by maternal report and infant meconium assay: unexposed, heavier cocaine exposure (> 75th percentile self-reported days of use or meconium benzoylecognine concentration), or lighter cocaine exposure (all others). Examiners, masked to exposure history, tested infants at 6, 12, and 24 months of age with the Bayley Scales of Infant Development.
The final mixed linear regression model included as fixed covariates level of prenatal exposure to cocaine, alcohol, and cigarettes; prenatal marijuana exposure; gestational age and birth weight z score for gestational age; and gender. Age at test, caregiver at time of each test (biological mother, kinship caregiver, unrelated foster caregiver), and any previous child-focused early intervention were included as time-dependent covariates. There were no significant adverse main effects of level of cocaine exposure on Mental Development Index (MDI), Psychomotor Development Index (PDI), or Infant Behavior Record. Child-focused early intervention interacted with level of cocaine exposure such that heavily exposed children who received such intervention showed higher adjusted mean MDI scores than all other groups. Although the sample was born at or near term, there was also a significant interaction of cocaine exposure and gestational age on MDI scores, with those in the heavier exposure group born at slightly lower gestational age having higher mean MDI scores compared with other children born at that gestational age.
There was also a significant interaction on MDI between child’s age and caregiver. At 6 months, the adjusted MDI of children living with a kinship caregiver was 15.5 points lower than that of children living with their biological mother, but this effect was diminished and was no longer significant at 24 months (difference in means: 4.3 points). The adjusted mean MDI of children in unrelated foster care at 6 months was 8.2 points lower than children of biological mothers, whereas it was 7.3 points higher at 24 months.
Early intervention attenuated the age-related decline in PDI scores for all groups. Birth weight < 10th percentile was associated with lower PDI scores for children with heavier cocaine exposure and with lower MDI scores for all groups.
Heavier prenatal cocaine exposure is not an independent risk factor for depressed scores on the Bayley Scales of Infant Development up to 24 months of age when term infants are compared with lighter exposed or unexposed infants of the same demographic background. Cocaine-exposed infants with birth weight below the 10th percentile for gestational age and gender and those placed with kinship caregivers are at increased risk for less optimal developmental outcomes. Pediatric clinicians should refer cocaine-exposed children to the child-focused developmental interventions available for all children at developmental risk.
PMCID: PMC2366173  PMID: 12456912
cocaine; pregnancy; meconium; child development; early intervention; kinship care; foster care
3.  Prenatal Cocaine Exposure and Childhood Obesity at Nine Years 
Neurotoxicology and teratology  2010;33(2):188-197.
Little is known about the association between prenatal cocaine exposure and obesity. We tested whether prenatal cocaine exposure increases the likelihood of obesity in 561 9-year-old term children from the Maternal Lifestyle Study (MLS). Overall, 21.6% of children met criterion for obesity (body mass index [BMI] ≥ 95th percentile, age and sex-specific). While there was no overall cocaine effect on obesity, multivariate logistic analysis revealed that children exposed to cocaine but not alcohol were 4 times more likely to be obese (OR 4.11, CI 2.04–9.76) than children not exposed to either drug. No increase in obesity prevalence was found in children exposed to alcohol but not cocaine (OR 1.08, CI .59–1.93) or both (OR 1.21, CI 0.66–2.22). Alcohol exposure may attenuate the effect of cocaine exposure on obesity. Increased obesity associated with cocaine but not alcohol exposure was first observed at 7 years. BMI was also elevated from 3 to 9 years in children exposed to cocaine but not alcohol, due to increasing weight but normal height. Prenatal exposure to cocaine may alter the neuroendocrine system and metabolic processes resulting in increased weight gain and childhood obesity.
PMCID: PMC3058125  PMID: 21109003
Prenatal cocaine exposure; prenatal alcohol exposure; childhood obesity; growth; fetal origins
4.  The Effects of Prenatal Cocaine-Exposure on Problem Behavior in Children 4-10 Years 
Neurotoxicology and teratology  2010;32(4):443-451.
Children prenatally exposed to cocaine may be at increased risk for behavioral problems due to disruptions of monaminergically regulated arousal systems and/or environmental conditions.
To assess behavioral outcomes of cocaine (CE) and non-cocaine exposed (NCE) children, 4 through 10 years old, controlling for other prenatal drug exposures and environmental factors.
Low socioeconomic status (SES), primarily African-American children (n = 381 (193 (CE), 188 (NCE)) were recruited from birth. Generalized Estimating Equation (GEE) analyses were used to assess the predictive relationship of prenatal cocaine exposure to odds of caregiver reported clinically elevated behavioral problems at 4, 6, 9 and 10 years of age, controlling for confounders.
Prenatal cocaine exposure was associated with increased rates of caregiver reported delinquency (OR=1.93, CI: 1.09-3.42, p<.02). A significant prenatal cocaine exposure by sex interaction was found for delinquency indicating that only females were affected (OR=3.57, CI: 1.67-7.60, p<.001). There was no effect of cocaine on increased odds of other CBCL subscales. Higher prenatal tobacco exposure was associated with increased odds of externalizing symptoms at 4, 9 and 10 years of age. For CE children, those in foster or adoptive care were rated as having more behavior problems than those in biologic mother or relative care. Greater caregiver psychological distress was associated with increased behavioral problems. There were no independent effects of elevated blood lead level on increased behavior problems after control for prenatal drug exposure and other environmental conditions.
Prenatal cocaine and tobacco exposure were associated with greater externalizing behavior after control for multiple prenatal drug exposures, other environmental and caregiving factors and lead exposure from 4 through 10 years of age. Greater caregiver psychological distress negatively affected caregiver ratings of all CBCL domains. Since cocaine and tobacco use during pregnancy and maternal psychological distress have the potential to be altered through prenatal educational, drug treatment and and mental health interventions, they warrant attention in efforts to reduce rates of problem behaviors in children.
PMCID: PMC3586186  PMID: 20227491
behavior; delinquency; prenatal cocaine-exposure; lead exposure; longitudinal
5.  Neurobehavioral and Developmental Traiectories Associated with Level of Prenatal Cocaine Exposure 
In experimental models, prenatal cocaine exposure has been found to perturb GABA and dopamine development. Clinically, abnormalities in tone, posture and state regulation are noted in early infancy but the evolution of these findings over time is not well described. The current study assesses the longitudinal effects of prenatal cocaine exposure in dose-dependent fashion on developmental & behavioral and neurological trajectories over the first 2 years of life.
Three hundred and eighty infants, 113 cocaine-exposed, were enrolled at birth from an urban hospital from 2000 to 2004. Exposure was determined by maternal interview, segmental hair analyses (RIAH™) in all, and meconium and urine in a subset. Developmental, behavioral and neurological assessments were carried out blind to drug exposure at 6, 12 and 24 months of age in the 306 children who returned in follow-up. Mixed-effects linear modeling (developmental growth curve) assessed change in outcome over time.
The mental developmental growth curve showed a negative slope (2.2 points) in adjusted analyses among cocaine-exposed children over the first 2 years of life. (p=.04), while the slope of the motor development growth curve did not. Adjusting for microcephaly at 6 months diminished the strength of the association between cocaine exposure and mental developmental growth curve (effect modification). Cocaine exposure was marginally associated with behavioral outcomes in adjusted analyses. Total Behavior scores and Orientation/Engagement scores improved with age. At 1 year of age, prenatal cocaine exposure was significantly associated with lower motor development scores. High rates of hypertonia (global and diparesis) identified at the 6-month visit dropped dramatically in the first 2 years of life: cocaine-exposed children showed a more rapid rate of resolution of hypertonia than unexposed children, with hypertonia improving 2.2 times faster among those with heavy cocaine exposure.
We found differences in mental performance over the first 2 years of life associated with prenatal cocaine exposure that was mediated by microcephaly implying that cocaine exerts a sustained teratogenic effect on brain development. Early neurological (hypertonia) and behavioral findings associated with prenatal cocaine exposure improved over time. Hypertonia did not predict long-term development impairments. Conceivably, the transient nature of neurobehavioral manifestations reflects postnatally a tendency towards homeostasis of cocaine-related embryopathic perturbations of GABA and dopaminergic systems.
PMCID: PMC4318507  PMID: 25664330
Perinatal; Cocaine exposure; Behavior; Drug use; Hypertonia; Neurologic; Child development
6.  Maternal Overweight and Obesity and Risks of Severe Birth-Asphyxia-Related Complications in Term Infants: A Population-Based Cohort Study in Sweden 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(5):e1001648.
Martina Persson and colleagues use a Swedish national database to investigate the association between maternal body mass index in early pregnancy and severe asphyxia-related outcomes in infants delivered at term.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Maternal overweight and obesity increase risks of pregnancy and delivery complications and neonatal mortality, but the mechanisms are unclear. The objective of the study was to investigate associations between maternal body mass index (BMI) in early pregnancy and severe asphyxia-related outcomes in infants delivered at term (≥37 weeks).
Methods and Findings
A nation-wide Swedish cohort study based on data from the Medical Birth Register included all live singleton term births in Sweden between 1992 and 2010. Logistic regression analyses were used to obtain odds ratios (ORs) with 95% CIs for Apgar scores between 0 and 3 at 5 and 10 minutes, meconium aspiration syndrome, and neonatal seizures, adjusted for maternal height, maternal age, parity, mother's smoking habits, education, country of birth, and year of infant birth. Among 1,764,403 term births, 86% had data on early pregnancy BMI and Apgar scores. There were 1,380 infants who had Apgar score 0–3 at 5 minutes (absolute risk  = 0.8 per 1,000) and 894 had Apgar score 0–3 at 10 minutes (absolute risk  = 0.5 per 1,000). Compared with infants of mothers with normal BMI (18.5–24.9), the adjusted ORs (95% CI) for Apgar scores 0–3 at 10 minutes were as follows: BMI 25–29.9: 1.32 (1.10–1.58); BMI 30–34.9: 1.57 (1.20–2.07); BMI 35–39.9: 1.80 (1.15–2.82); and BMI ≥40: 3.41 (1.91–6.09). The ORs for Apgar scores 0–3 at 5 minutes, meconium aspiration, and neonatal seizures increased similarly with maternal BMI. A study limitation was lack of data on effects of obstetric interventions and neonatal resuscitation efforts.
Risks of severe asphyxia-related outcomes in term infants increase with maternal overweight and obesity. Given the high prevalence of the exposure and the severity of the outcomes studied, the results are of potential public health relevance and should be confirmed in other populations. Prevention of overweight and obesity in women of reproductive age is important to improve perinatal health.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Economic, technologic, and lifestyle changes over the past 30 years have created an abundance of cheap, accessible, high-calorie food. Combined with fewer demands for physical activity, this situation has lead to increasing body mass throughout most of the world. Consequently, being overweight or obese is much more common in many high-income and low-and middle-income countries compared to 1980. Worldwide estimates put the percentage of overweight or obese adults as increasing by over 10%, between 1980 and 2008.
As being overweight becomes a global epidemic, its prevalence in women of reproductive age has also increased. Pregnant women who are overweight or obese are a cause for concern because of the possible associated health risks to both the infant and mother. Research is necessary to more clearly define these risks.
Why Was This Study Done?
In this study, the researchers investigated the complications associated with excess maternal weight that could hinder an infant from obtaining enough oxygen during delivery (neonatal asphyxia). All fetuses experience a loss of oxygen during contractions, however, a prolonged loss of oxygen can impact an infant's long-term development. To explore this risk, the researchers relied on a universal scoring system known as the Apgar score. An Apgar score is routinely recorded at one, five, and ten minutes after birth and is calculated from an assessment of heart rate, respiratory effort, and color, along with reflexes and muscle tone. An oxygen deficit during delivery will have an impact on the score. A normal score is in the range of 7–10. Body mass index (BMI) a calculation that uses height and weight, was used to assess the weight status (i.e., normal, overweight, obese) of the mother during pregnancy.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Using the Swedish medical birth registry (a database including nearly all the births occurring in Sweden since 1973) the researchers selected records for single births that took place between 1992 to 2010. The registry also incorporates prenatal care data and researchers further selected for records that included weight and height measurement taken during the first prenatal visit. BMI was calculated using the weight and height measurement. Based on BMI ranges that define weight groups as normal, overweight, and obesity grades I, II, and III, the researchers analyzed and compared the number of low Apgar scoring infants (Apgar 0–3) in each group. Mothers with normal weight gave birth to the majority of infants with Apgar 0–3. In comparison the proportion of low Apgar scores were greater in babies of overweight and obese mothers. The researchers found that the rates of low Apgar scores increased with maternal BMI: the authors found that rates of low Apgar score at 5 minutes increased from 0.4 per 1,000 among infants of underweight women (BMI <18.5) to 2.4 per 1,000 among infants of women with obesity class III (BMI ≥40). Furthermore, overweight (BMI 25.0–29.9) was associated with a 55% increased risk of low Apgar scores at 5 minutes; obesity grade I (BMI 30–34.9) and grade II (BMI 35.0–39.9) with an almost 2-fold and a more than 2-fold increased risk, respectively; and obesity grade ΙΙΙ (BMI ≥40.0) with a more than 3-fold increase in risk. Finally, maternal overweight and obesity also increase the risks for seizures and meconium aspiration in the neonate.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that the risk of experiencing an oxygen deficit increases for the babies of women who are overweight or obese. Given the high prevalence of overweight and obesity in many countries worldwide, these findings are important and suggest that preventing women of reproductive age from becoming overweight or obese is therefore important to the health of their children.
A limitation of this study is the lack of data on the effects of clinical interventions and neonatal resuscitation efforts that may have been performed at the time of birth. Also Apgar scoring is based on five variables and a low score is not the most direct way to determine if the infant has experienced an oxygen deficit. However, these findings suggest that early detection of perinatal asphyxia is particularly relevant among infants of overweight and obese women although more studies are necessary to confirm the results in other populations.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US National Institutes of Health explains and calculates body mass index
The NIH also defines the Apgar scoring system
The United Kingdom's National Health Service has information for pregnant woman who are overweight
The UK-based Overseas Development Institute discusses how changes in diet have led to a worldwide health crisis in its “Future Diets” publication
Information about the Swedish health care system is available
Information in English is available from the National Board of Health and Welfare in Sweden
PMCID: PMC4028185  PMID: 24845218
7.  Cocaine Exposure and Children's Self-Regulation: Indirect Association via Maternal Harshness 
Objectives: This study examined the association between prenatal cocaine exposure and children’s self-regulation at 3 years of child age. In addition to direct effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on children’s self-regulation, we hypothesized there would be indirect associations between cocaine exposure and self-regulation via higher maternal harshness and poor autonomic regulation in infancy. Methods: The sample consisted of 216 mother–infant dyads recruited at delivery from local area hospitals (116 cocaine-exposed, 100 non-exposed). Infant autonomic regulation was measured at 7 months of age during an anger/frustration task, maternal harshness was coded from observations of mother–toddler interactions at 2 years of age, and children’s self-regulation was measured at 3 years of age using several laboratory paradigms. Results: Contrary to hypotheses, there were no direct associations between maternal cocaine use during pregnancy and children’s self-regulation. However, results from testing our conceptual model including the indirect effects via maternal harshness or infant parasympathetic regulation indicated that this model fit the data well, χ2 (23) = 34.36, p > 0.05, Comparative Fit Index = 0.95, RMSEA = 0.05. Cocaine using mothers displayed higher intensity of harshness toward their toddlers during lab interactions across a variety of tasks at 2 years of age (β = 0.23, p < 0.05), and higher intensity of harshness at 2 years was predictive of lower self-regulation at 3 years (β = −0.36, p < 0.01). Maternal cocaine use was also predictive of a non-adaptive increase in respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSA) from baseline to the negative affect task, but RSA change in infancy was not predictive of self-regulation at 3 years. Conclusion: Results are supportive of animal models indicating higher aggression among cocaine treated dams, and indicate that higher maternal harshness among cocaine using mothers is predictive of child self-regulatory outcomes in the preschool period.
PMCID: PMC3115536  PMID: 21716637
cocaine exposure; self-regulation; maternal harshness; autonomic regulation
8.  Prenatal Cocaine Exposure and Small-for-Gestational-Age Status: Effects on Growth at 6 Years of age 
Neurotoxicology and teratology  2011;33(5):575-581.
To evaluate the impact of prenatal cocaine exposure and small-for-gestational-age (SGA) status on childhood growth.
Cocaine exposure was defined by history or meconium metabolites. Hierarchical linear modeling was used to examine cocaine exposure and SGA status on growth, while controlling for exposure to other drugs and alcohol use.
At birth cocaine-exposed infants (n=364) had significantly lower growth parameters compared to non-exposed children (n=771). At 6 years, weight was similar between exposed and unexposed children. SGA infants continued to be growth impaired. There was a significant interaction between prenatal cocaine exposure and SGA status at 6 years. The negative effects of cocaine on weight and height were greater among non-SGA than SGA children (432 vs. 280 gm, and 0.7 and 0.5 cm, respectively) while negative effects of SGA status on weight and height were larger in non-cocaine exposed compared to the exposed children (2.3 kg vs.1.6 kg and 2.2 and 1.0 cm).
Children exposed to prenatal cocaine were similar in weight to non-exposed children at 6 years of age. Cocaine had an unexplained greater detrimental effect on non-SGA than SGA children. SGA status at birth has an independent detrimental effect on childhood growth.
PMCID: PMC3183411  PMID: 21849244
Prenatal cocaine exposure; small for gestational age; childhood growth
9.  Exposure to parental smoking and child growth and development: a cohort study 
BMC Pediatrics  2013;13:104.
Studies on adverse childhood health and development outcomes associated with parental smoking have shown inconsistent results. Using a cohort of Belarusian children, we examined differences in cognition, behaviors, growth, adiposity, and blood pressure at 6.5 years according to prenatal and postnatal exposure to parental smoking.
Using cluster-adjusted multivariable regression, effects of exposure to prenatal smoking were examined by comparing (1) children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy with those of mothers who smoked neither during nor after pregnancy and (2) children whose mothers smoked during and after pregnancy with those whose mothers smoked after pregnancy only; effects of postnatal smoking were examined by comparing (1) children whose mothers smoked after pregnancy only with those of mothers who smoked neither during nor after pregnancy and (2) children whose fathers smoked with those whose fathers did not smoke among children of non-smoking mothers after adjusting for a wide range of socioeconomic and family characteristics.
After adjusting for confounders, children exposed vs unexposed to prenatal maternal smoking had no differences in mean IQ, teacher-rated behavioral problems, adiposity, or blood pressure. Children exposed to maternal postnatal smoking had slightly increased behavioral problems [0.9, 95% CI: 0.6, 1.2 for total difficulties], higher body mass index [0.2, 95% CI: 0.1, 0.3], greater total skinfold thickness [0.4, 95% CI: 0.04, 0.71], and higher odds of overweight or obesity [1.4, 95% CI; 1.1, 1.7]. Similar magnitudes of association were observed with postnatal paternal smoking.
No adverse cognitive, behavioral and developmental outcomes were associated with exposure to maternal prenatal smoking. Observed associations with postnatal smoking of both parents may reflect residual confounding by genetic and family environmental factors.
PMCID: PMC3717101  PMID: 23842036
10.  Severity of Prenatal Cocaine Exposure and Child Language Functioning Through Age Seven Years: A Longitudinal Latent Growth Curve Analysis 
Substance use & misuse  2004;39(1):25-59.
The current study estimates the longitudinal effects of severity of prenatal cocaine exposure on language functioning in an urban sample of full-term African-American children (200 cocaine-exposed, 176 noncocaine-exposed) through age 7 years. The Miami Prenatal Cocaine Study sample was enrolled prospectively at birth, with documentation of prenatal drug exposure status through maternal interview and toxicology assays of maternal and infant urine and infant meconium. Language functioning was measured at ages 3 and 5 years using the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals–Preschool (CELF-P) and at age 7 years using the Core Language Domain of the NEPSY: A Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment. Longitudinal latent growth curve analyses were used to examine two components of language functioning, a more stable aptitude for language performance and a time-varying trajectory of language development, across the three time points and their relationship to varying levels of prenatal cocaine exposure. Severity of prenatal cocaine exposure was characterized using a latent construct combining maternal self-report of cocaine use during pregnancy by trimesters and maternal and infant bioassays, allowing all available information to be taken into account. The association between severity of exposure and language functioning was examined within a model including factors for fetal growth, gestational age, and IQ as intercorrelated response variables and child’s age, gender, and prenatal alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana exposure as covariates. Results indicated that greater severity of prenatal cocaine exposure was associated with greater deficits within the more stable aptitude for language performance (D = −0.071, 95% CI = −0.133, −0.009; p = 0.026). There was no relationship between severity of prenatal cocaine exposure and the time-varying trajectory of language development. The observed cocaine-associated deficit was independent of multiple alternative suspected sources of variation in language performance, including other potential responses to prenatal cocaine exposure, such as child’s intellectual functioning, and other birth and postnatal influences, including language stimulation in the home environment.
PMCID: PMC2634602  PMID: 15002943
Prenatal cocaine exposure; Language performance
11.  Potential latent effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on growth and the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease in childhood☆ 
The literature strongly suggests that prenatal exposure to certain medications and substances does not cause major malformations in early childhood. However, these exposures may have far-reaching latent health effects, such as restricted growth, hypertension, and cardiovascular events in adulthood. We reviewed the literature to identify the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on growth and the risk of cardiovascular and metabolic disease in late adolescence and early adulthood by examining studies that were published in peer-reviewed English-language journals from 1990 through 2009 and indexed in MEDLINE. We found that animal and clinical studies of the influence of prenatal cocaine exposure on child and adolescent growth and the subsequent development of myocardial and cardiometabolic disease risk factors are few and inconclusive. Studies support the hypothesis that vascular and hemodynamic functions are partially programmed in early life and thus substantially influence vascular aging and arterial stiffening in later life. Sub-optimal fetal nutrition and growth may increase blood pressure and the development of cardiovascular and metabolic disease in late life. How prenatal cocaine and other drug exposure effects this relationship is currently unknown. Despite high rates of cocaine and other drug use during pregnancy (up to 18% in some studies), little is known about the health effects of prenatal cocaine exposure in adolescence and early adulthood. The few studies of early growth deficits persisting into adolescence are inconclusive. The literature provides little information on how exposed children grow into adulthood and about their subsequent risk of cardiometabolic and vascular disease.
PMCID: PMC3037026  PMID: 21318092
Prenatal; Drug exposure; Cardiovascular disease; Pediatric; Growth; Metabolic disease
12.  Pregnancy Weight Gain and Childhood Body Weight: A Within-Family Comparison 
PLoS Medicine  2013;10(10):e1001521.
David Ludwig and colleagues examine the within-family relationship between pregnancy weight gain and the offspring's childhood weight gain, thereby reducing the influence of genes and environment.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Excessive pregnancy weight gain is associated with obesity in the offspring, but this relationship may be confounded by genetic and other shared influences. We aimed to examine the association of pregnancy weight gain with body mass index (BMI) in the offspring, using a within-family design to minimize confounding.
Methods and Findings
In this population-based cohort study, we matched records of all live births in Arkansas with state-mandated data on childhood BMI collected in public schools (from August 18, 2003 to June 2, 2011). The cohort included 42,133 women who had more than one singleton pregnancy and their 91,045 offspring. We examined how differences in weight gain that occurred during two or more pregnancies for each woman predicted her children's BMI and odds ratio (OR) of being overweight or obese (BMI≥85th percentile) at a mean age of 11.9 years, using a within-family design. For every additional kg of pregnancy weight gain, childhood BMI increased by 0.0220 (95% CI 0.0134–0.0306, p<0.0001) and the OR of overweight/obesity increased by 1.007 (CI 1.003–1.012, p = 0.0008). Variations in pregnancy weight gain accounted for a 0.43 kg/m2 difference in childhood BMI. After adjustment for birth weight, the association of pregnancy weight gain with childhood BMI was attenuated but remained statistically significant (0.0143 kg/m2 per kg of pregnancy weight gain, CI 0.0057–0.0229, p = 0.0007).
High pregnancy weight gain is associated with increased body weight of the offspring in childhood, and this effect is only partially mediated through higher birth weight. Translation of these findings to public health obesity prevention requires additional study.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Childhood obesity has become a worldwide epidemic. For example, in the United States, the number of obese children has more than doubled in the past 30 years. 7% of American children aged 6–11 years were obese in 1980, compared to nearly 18% in 2010. Because of the rising levels of obesity, the current generation of children may have a shorter life span than their parents for the first time in 200 years.
Childhood obesity has both immediate and long-term effects on health. The initial problems are usually psychological. Obese children often experience discrimination, leading to low self-esteem and depression. Their physical health also suffers. They are more likely to be at risk of cardiovascular disease from high cholesterol and high blood pressure. They may also develop pre-diabetes or diabetes type II. In the long-term, obese children tend to become obese adults, putting them at risk of premature death from stroke, heart disease, or cancer.
There are many factors that lead to childhood obesity and they often act in combination. A major risk factor, especially for younger children, is having at least one obese parent. The challenge lies in unravelling the complex links between the genetic and environmental factors that are likely to be involved.
Why Was This Study Done?
Several studies have shown that a child's weight is influenced by his/her mother's weight before pregnancy and her weight gain during pregnancy. An obese mother, or a mother who puts on more pregnancy weight than average, is more likely to have an obese child.
One explanation for the effects of pregnancy weight gain is that the mother's overeating directly affects the baby's development. It may change the baby's brain and metabolism in such a way as to increase the child's long-term risk of obesity. Animal studies have confirmed that the offspring of overfed rats show these kinds of physiological changes. However, another possible explanation is that mother and baby share a similar genetic make-up and environment so that a child becomes obese from inheriting genetic risk factors, and growing up in a household where being overweight is the norm.
The studies in humans that have been carried out to date have not been able to distinguish between these explanations. Some have given conflicting results. The aim of this study was therefore to look for evidence of links between pregnancy weight gain and children's weight, using an approach that would separate the impact of genetic and environmental factors from a direct effect on the developing baby.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers examined data from the population of the US state of Arkansas recorded between 2003 and 2011. They looked at the health records of over 42,000 women who had given birth to more than one child during this period. This gave them information about how much weight the women had gained during each of their pregnancies. The researchers also looked at the school records of the children, over 91,000 in total, which included the children's body mass index (BMI, which factors in both height and weight). They analyzed the data to see if there was a link between the mothers' pregnancy weight gain and the child's BMI at around 12 years of age. Most importantly, they looked at these links within families, comparing children born to the same mother. The rationale for this approach was that these children would share a similar genetic make-up and would have grown up in similar environments. By taking genetics and environment into account in this manner, any remaining evidence of an impact of pregnancy weight gain on the children's BMI would have to be explained by other factors.
The results showed that the amount of weight each mother gained in pregnancy predicted her children's BMI and the likelihood of her children being overweight or obese. For every additional kg the mother gained during pregnancy, the children's BMI increased by 0.022. The children of mothers who put on the most weight had a BMI that was on average 0.43 higher than the children whose mothers had put on the least weight.
The study leaves some questions unanswered, including whether the mother's weight before pregnancy makes a difference to their children's BMI. The researchers were not able to obtain these measurements, nor the weight of the fathers. There may have also been other factors that weren't measured that might explain the links that were found.
What Do These Findings Mean?
This study shows that mothers who gain excessive weight during pregnancy increase the risk of their child becoming obese. This appears to be partly due to a direct effect on the developing baby.
These results represent a significant public health concern, even though the impact on an individual basis is relatively small. They could contribute to several hundred thousand cases of childhood obesity worldwide. Importantly, they also suggest that some cases could be prevented by measures to limit excessive weight gain during pregnancy. Such an approach could prove effective, as most mothers will not want to damage their child's health, and might therefore be highly motivated to change their behavior. However, because inadequate weight gain during pregnancy can also adversely affect the developing fetus, it will be essential for women to receive clear information about what constitutes optimal weight gain during pregnancy.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provide Childhood Obesity Facts
The UK National Health Service article “How much weight will I put on during my pregnancy?” provides information on pregnancy and weight gain and links to related resources
PMCID: PMC3794857  PMID: 24130460
13.  Small for Gestational Age and Higher Birth Weight Predict Childhood Obesity in Preterm Infants 
American journal of perinatology  2010;27(9):721-730.
We sought to determine the association between small for gestational age (SGA), birth weight, and childhood obesity within preterm polysubstance exposed children. We sampled 312 preterm children with 11-year body mass index (BMI; age- and sex-specific) data from the Maternal Lifestyle Study (51% girls, 21.5% SGA, 46% prenatal cocaine, and 55% tobacco exposed). Multinomial regression analyzed the association between 11-year obesity (OBE) and overweight (OW) and SGA, birth weight, first-year growth velocity, diet, and physical activity variables. Overall, 24% were OBE (BMI for age ≥95th percentile) and 16.7% were OW (BMI ≥85th and <95th percentiles). In adjusted analyses, SGA was associated with OW (odds ratio [OR]=3.4, confidence interval [CI] 1.5 to 7.5). Higher birth weight was associated with OBE (OR = 1.8, CI 1.3 to 2.4) and OW (OR=1.4, CI 1.1 to 2.0). Growth velocity was associated with OBE (OR=2.7, CI 1.8 to 4.0) and OW (OR=1.6, CI 1.1 to 2.4). Low exercise was associated with OBE (OR=2.1, CI 1.0 to 4.4) and OW (OR=2.1, CI 1.0 to 4.5). There was no effect of substance exposure on obesity outcomes. Many (41%) of these high-risk preterm 11-year-olds were obese/overweight. Multiple growth-related processes may be involved in obesity risk for preterm children, including fetal programming as indicated by the SGA effect.
PMCID: PMC2949419  PMID: 20408111
Childhood obesity; premature birth; infant SGA; birth weight; exercise; prenatal drug exposure
14.  Growth, Development, and Behavior in Early Childhood Following Prenatal Cocaine Exposure 
Despite recent studies that failed to show catastrophic effects of prenatal cocaine exposure, popular attitudes and public policies still reflect the belief that cocaine is a uniquely dangerous teratogen.
To critically review outcomes in early childhood after prenatal cocaine exposure in 5 domains: physical growth; cognition; language skills; motor skills; and behavior, attention, affect, and neurophysiology.
Data Sources
Search of MEDLINE and Psychological Abstracts from 1984 to October 2000.
Study Selection
Studies selected for detailed review (1) were published in a peerreviewed English-language journal; (2) included a comparison group; (3) recruited samples prospectively in the perinatal period; (4) used masked assessment; and (5) did not include a substantial proportion of subjects exposed in utero to opiates, amphetamines, phencyclidine, or maternal human immunodeficiency virus infection.
Data Extraction
Thirty-six of 74 articles met criteria and were reviewed by 3 authors. Disagreements were resolved by consensus.
Data Synthesis
After controlling for confounders, there was no consistent negative association between prenatal cocaine exposure and physical growth, developmental test scores, or receptive or expressive language. Less optimal motor scores have been found up to age 7 months but not thereafter, and may reflect heavy tobacco exposure. No independent cocaine effects have been shown on standardized parent and teacher reports of child behavior scored by accepted criteria. Experimental paradigms and novel statistical manipulations of standard instruments suggest an association between prenatal cocaine exposure and decreased attentiveness and emotional expressivity, as well as differences on neurophysiologic and attentional/affective findings.
Among children aged 6 years or younger, there is no convincing evidence that prenatal cocaine exposure is associated with developmental toxic effects that are different in severity, scope, or kind from the sequelae of multiple other risk factors. Many findings once thought to be specific effects of in utero cocaine exposure are correlated with other factors, including prenatal exposure to tobacco, marijuana, or alcohol, and the quality of the child’s environment. Further replication is required of preliminary neurologic findings.
PMCID: PMC2504866  PMID: 11268270
15.  Risk of Childhood Overweight after Exposure to Tobacco Smoking in Prenatal and Early Postnatal Life 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(10):e109184.
To investigate the association between exposure to mothers smoking during prenatal and early postnatal life and risk of overweight at age 7 years, while taking birth weight into account.
From the Danish National Birth Cohort a total of 32,747 families were identified with available information on maternal smoking status in child's pre- and postnatal life and child's birth weight, and weight and height at age 7 years. Outcome was overweight according to the International Obesity Task Force gender and age specific body mass index. Smoking exposure was categorized into four groups: no exposure (n = 25,076); exposure only during pregnancy (n = 3,343); exposure only postnatally (n = 140); and exposure during pregnancy and postnatally (n = 4,188). Risk of overweight according to smoking status as well as dose-response relationships were estimated by crude and adjusted odds ratios using logistic regression models.
Exposure to smoking only during pregnancy, or both during pregnancy and postnatally were both significantly associated with overweight at 7 years of age (OR: 1.31, 95% CI: 1.15–1.48, and OR: 1.76, 95% CI: 1.58–1.97, respectively). Analyses excluding children with low birth weight (<2,500 gram) revealed similar results. A significant prenatal dose-response relationship was found. Per one additional cigarette smoked per day an increase in risk of overweight was observed (OR: 1.02, 95% CI: 1.01–1.03). When adjusting for quantity of smoking during pregnancy, prolonged exposure after birth further increased the risk of later overweight in the children (OR 1.28, 95% CI:1.09–1.50) compared with exposure only in the prenatal period.
Mother's perinatal smoking increased child's OR of overweight at age 7 years irrespective of birth weight, and with higher OR if exposed both during pregnancy and in early postnatal life. Clear dose-response relationships were observed, which emphasizes the need for prevention of any tobacco exposure of infants.
PMCID: PMC4195647  PMID: 25310824
16.  Fetal alcohol-related growth restriction from birth through young adulthood and moderating effects of maternal prepregnancy weight 
Fetal alcohol-related growth restriction persists through infancy but its impact later in life is less clear. Animal studies have demonstrated important roles for maternal nutrition in FASD, but the impact of prenatal maternal body composition has not been studied in humans. This study examined the effects of prenatal alcohol exposure on longitudinal growth from birth through young adulthood and the degree to which maternal weight and body mass index (BMI) moderate these effects.
480 mothers were recruited at their first prenatal clinic visit to over-represent moderate-to-heavy use of alcohol during pregnancy, including a 5% random sample of low-level drinkers and abstainers. They were interviewed at every prenatal visit about their alcohol consumption using a timeline follow-back approach. Their children were examined for weight, length/height, and head circumference at birth, 6.5 and 13 months, and 7.5, 14, and 19 years.
In multiple regression models with repeated measures (adjusted for confounders), prenatal alcohol exposure was associated with longitudinal reductions in weight, height, and weight-for-length/BMI that were largely determined at birth. At low-to-moderate levels of exposure, these effects were more severe in infancy than in later childhood. By contrast, effects persisted among children whose mothers drank at least monthly and among those born to women with alcohol abuse and/or dependence who had consumed ≥4 drinks/occasion. In addition, effects on weight, height, and head circumference were markedly stronger among children born to mothers with lower prepregnancy weight.
These findings confirm prior studies demonstrating alcohol-related reductions in weight, height, weight-for-height/BMI, and head circumference that persist through young adulthood. Stronger effects were seen among children born to mothers with smaller prepregnancy weight, which may have been due to attainment of higher blood alcohol concentrations in smaller mothers for a given amount of alcohol intake or to increased vulnerability in infants born to women with poorer nutrition.
PMCID: PMC3743666  PMID: 23013325
fetal alcohol syndrome; prenatal alcohol exposure; intrauterine growth retardation; postnatal growth; body composition; prepregnancy weight; maternal nutrition
17.  Level of In Utero Cocaine Exposure and Neonatal Ultrasound Findings 
Pediatrics  1999;104(5 Pt 1):1101-1105.
To assess whether there is an association between the level of in utero cocaine exposure and findings on neonatal cranial ultrasound, controlling for potentially confounding variables.
Study Design
In a prospective longitudinal study, three cocaine exposure groups were defined by maternal report and infant meconium assay: unexposed, heavier cocaine exposure (>75th percentile self-reported days of use or of meconium benzoylecogonine concentration) or lighter cocaine exposure (all others). Neonatal ultrasounds from 241 well, term infants were read by a single radiologist who was masked to the exposure group.
Infants with lighter cocaine exposure did not differ from the unexposed infants on any ultrasound findings. After controlling for infant gender, gestational age, and birth weight z scores and for maternal parity, blood pressure in labor, ethnicity, and use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana during pregnancy, the more heavily cocaine-exposed infants were more likely than the unexposed infants to show subependymal hemorrhage in the caudothalamic groove (covariate adjusted odds ratio: 3.88; 95% confidence interval: 1.45, 10.35).
This is the first study to demonstrate that ultrasound findings suggestive of vascular injury to the neonatal central nervous system are related to the level of prenatal cocaine exposure. Inconsistency in previous research in identifying an association between prenatal cocaine exposure and neonatal cranial ultrasound findings may reflect failure to consider dose effects.
PMCID: PMC2365465  PMID: 10545554
18.  Reduced Antibody Responses to Vaccinations in Children Exposed to Polychlorinated Biphenyls 
PLoS Medicine  2006;3(8):e311.
Developmental exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) has been implicated as a possible cause of deficient immune function in children. This study was designed to assess whether prenatal and postnatal exposure to PCBs impacts on antibody response to childhood immunizations.
Methods and Findings
Two birth cohorts were formed in the Faroe Islands, where exposures vary widely, because traditional diets may include whale blubber contaminated with PCBs. Prenatal exposure was determined from maternal concentrations of PCBs in pregnancy serum and milk. Following routine childhood vaccinations against tetanus and diphtheria, 119 children were examined at 18 mo and 129 children at 7 y of age, and their serum samples were analyzed for tetanus and diphtheria toxoid antibodies and for PCBs. The antibody response to diphtheria toxoid decreased at age 18 mo by 24.4% (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.63–41.9; p = 0.04) for each doubling of the cumulative PCB exposure at the time of examination. The diphtheria response was lower at age 7 y and was not associated with the exposure. However, the tetanus toxoid antibody response was affected mainly at age 7 y, decreasing by 16.5% (95% CI, 1.51–29.3; p = 0.03) for each doubling of the prenatal exposure. Structural equation analysis showed that the early postnatal exposure was the most important predictor of a decreased vaccination response.
Increased perinatal exposure to PCBs may adversely impact on immune responses to childhood vaccinations. The clinical implications of insufficient antibody production emphasize the need for prevention of immunotoxicant exposures.
A study of two birth cohorts in the Faroe Islands, where diets may include whale blubber contaminated with polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), suggests exposure to PCBs may reduce immune response to childhood vaccinations.
Editors' Summary
These days, mothers are as likely to worry about potential side-effects of childhood vaccinations as about whether they completely protect their child against infections. But healthy children vary in how well vaccinations “take.” After tetanus and diphtheria vaccination, for example, some children produce large quantities of antibodies that protect them against these serious bacterial diseases; others make a weaker, sometimes inadequate, immune response. What causes this variation is unclear, but one possibility is that the developing immune system is damaged in some babies by exposure both before birth and after birth through breast milk to “immunotoxicants” such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). These stable, man-made chemicals, which were widely used last century as insulators in electrical equipment and as fire retardants, accumulate and persist in the environment where they affect animal and human health. PCB-exposed babies often have a small thymus (the gland where immune system cells mature), make decreased amounts of antibodies, and have more childhood infections.
Why Was This Study Done?
Given these observations, could exposure to PCBs be partly responsible for the variable immunological responses of children to vaccination? If it is, and if environmental PCB levels remain high, it might be necessary to adapt more intensive vaccination programs so that all children are adequately protected against infectious diseases. In this study, the researchers examined whether prenatal and postnatal exposure to PCBs affects antibody responses to childhood vaccinations
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers enrolled two groups of children—one group born in 1994–1995, the other in 1999–2001—living on the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic. Here, people are exposed to high levels of PCBs through eating contaminated whale blubber. All the children received routine vaccinations against diphtheria and tetanus. The bacteria that cause these illnesses do so by producing a “toxoid,” so a harmless quantity of these toxic proteins is injected to stimulate a protective antibody response. For the older group, a blood sample was taken when they were seven and half years old to test for antibodies against diphtheria and tetanus toxoids; for the younger group, a sample was taken at 18 months. The exposure of the children to PCBs was assessed by measuring PCBs in their mothers' blood during pregnancy, in their mothers' milk soon after birth, and in their own blood when their antibodies were tested. The researchers found that the antibody response to diphtheria toxoid in the younger group of children was reduced by nearly a quarter for every doubling in their total exposure to PCBs. The tetanus toxoid response in the older children was reduced by a similar amount by prenatal exposure to PCBs. Although most of the children made enough antibodies to both toxoids to provide protection, about a fifth of the older children—mainly those with the highest exposures to PCBs—had worryingly low levels of diphtheria toxoid antibodies.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These results reveal an association between exposure to PCBs, particularly soon after birth, and a reduction in immunoprotection after childhood vaccinations. It is not clear, however, exactly how big this effect may be. This is uncertain for two reasons. First, the estimates of how much antibody responses are reduced by doubling PCB exposure are imprecise—for the younger children this change in exposure might actually have very little effect on their response to diphtheria vaccination or it could halve their response. Second, the estimates of PCB exposures are based on only three samples of body fluids so provide only a crude indication of exposure. Nevertheless, these results in children exposed to high levels of PCBs indicate that the immune function of children might also be adversely affected by the lower levels of PCBs found elsewhere in the world. Although the changes in immune function are subtle, they could be clinically important, write the researchers, and might affect both the general health of children and the degree of protection against infectious diseases that vaccination provides. Finally, these findings suggest that efforts must be stepped up to reduce PCB exposure levels to protect the sensitive immune systems of young children from these potent immunotoxicants.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
Tox Town, a Web site available from the US National Institutes of Health, provides an introduction to toxic chemicals and environmental health risks
US Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry fact sheet on PCBs
US Environmental Protection Agency information on PCBs
MedlinePlus encyclopedia entries on immunization tetanus vaccine, and diphtheria vaccine
Wikipedia pages on PCBs and vaccines (note: Wikipedia is a free online encyclopedia that anyone can edit)
PMCID: PMC1551916  PMID: 16942395
19.  Psychopathology and Special Education Enrollment in Children with Prenatal Cocaine Exposure 
This study evaluated how enrollment in special education services in 11 year old children relates to prenatal cocaine exposure, psychopathology, and other risk factors.
Participants were 498 children enrolled in The Maternal Lifestyle Study, a prospective, longitudinal, multisite study examining outcomes of children with prenatal cocaine exposure. Logistic regression was used to examine the effect of prenatal cocaine exposure and psychopathology on enrollment in an individualized education plan (a designation specific to children with special education needs), with environmental, maternal, and infant medical variables as covariates.
Prenatal cocaine exposure, an interaction of prenatal cocaine exposure and Oppositional Defiant Disorder, child Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, parent-reported internalizing behaviors, and teacher-reported externalizing behaviors, predicted enrollment in an individualized education plan. Other statistically significant variables in the model were male gender, low birth weight, being small for gestational age, white race, caregiver change, low socio-economic status, low child intelligence quotient, caregiver depression, and prenatal marijuana exposure.
Prenatal cocaine exposure increased the likelihood of receiving an individualized education plan with adjustment for covariates. Psychopathology also predicted this special education outcome, in combination with and independent of prenatal cocaine exposure.
PMCID: PMC3400535  PMID: 22487696
cocaine; special education; behavior; prenatal substance exposure
20.  Expressive and Receptive Language Functioning in Preschool Children With Prenatal Cocaine Exposure 
Journal of pediatric psychology  2004;29(7):543-554.
To estimate the relationship between severity of prenatal cocaine exposure and expressive and receptive language skills in full-term, African American children at age 3 years.
Language was assessed at age 3 using the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals–Preschool (CELF-P). The sample included 424 children (226 cocaine exposed, 198 non–cocaine exposed) who received preschool language assessments at age 3, drawn from a cohort of 476 children enrolled prospectively at birth.
Structural equation modeling was used to regress expressive and receptive language as intercorrelated response variables on level of prenatal cocaine exposure, measured by a latent construct including maternal self-report of cocaine use and maternal/infant urine toxicology assays and infant meconium. Results indicated a .168 SD decrease in expressive language functioning for every unit increase in exposure level (95% CI = −.320, −.015; p = .031) after consideration for fetal growth and gestational age as correlated response variables. Receptive language was more modestly related to prenatal cocaine exposure and was not statistically significant. Results for expressive language remained stable with inclusion of the McCarthy general cognitive index as a response variable (expressive language β = −.173, 95% CI = −.330, −.016; p = .031), and with adjustment for maternal age and prenatal exposures to alcohol, tobacco, and marijuana (expressive language β = −.175, 95% CI = −.347, −.003; p = .046). Additional child and caregiver environmental variables assessed at age 3 were also evaluated in varying statistical models with similar results.
The evidence from this study supports a gradient relationship between increased level of prenatal cocaine exposure and decreased expressive language functioning in preschool-aged cocaine-exposed children.
PMCID: PMC2653083  PMID: 15347702
prenatal cocaine exposure; language functioning; preschool children; CELF-P
21.  Developmental trajectories of Body Mass Index from infancy to 18 years of age: prenatal determinants and health consequences 
Knowledge on the long-term development of adiposity throughout childhood/adolescence and its prenatal determinants and health sequelae is lacking. We sought to (1) identify trajectories of Body Mass Index (BMI) from 1 to 18 years of age, (2) examine associations of maternal gestational smoking and early pregnancy overweight with offspring BMI trajectories and (3) determine whether BMI trajectories predict health outcomes: asthma, lung function parameters (forced expiratory volume in one second (FEV1)/forced vital capacity (FVC) ratio), and blood pressure, at 18 years.
The Isle of Wight birth cohort, a population-based sample of 1456 infants born between January 1989 and February 1990, was prospectively assessed at ages 1, 2, 4, 10 and 18 years. Group-based trajectory modelling was applied to test for the presence of latent BMI trajectories. Associations were assessed using log-binomial and linear regression models.
Four trajectories of BMI were identified: ‘normal’, ‘early persistent obesity’, ‘delayed overweight’, and ‘early transient overweight’. Risk factors for being in the early persistent obesity trajectory included maternal smoking during pregnancy (RR 2.16, 95% CI 1.02 to 4.68) and early pregnancy overweight (3.16, 1.52 to 6.58). When comparing the early persistent obesity to the normal trajectory, a 2.15-fold (1.33 to 3.49) increased risk of asthma, 3.2% (0.4% to 6.0%) deficit in FEV1/FVC ratio, and elevated systolic 11.3 mm Hg (7.1 to 15.4) and diastolic 12.0 mm Hg (8.9 to 15.1) blood pressure were observed at age 18 years.
Maternal prenatal exposures show prolonged effects on offspring's propensity towards overweight-obesity. Distinct morbid BMI trajectories are evident during the first 18 years of life that are associated with higher risk of asthma, reduced FEV1/FVC ratio, and elevated blood pressure.
PMCID: PMC4174013  PMID: 24895184
Obesity; Epidemiology; Paediatric; Maternal Health; Asthma
22.  Association of Prenatal and Childhood Blood Lead Concentrations with Criminal Arrests in Early Adulthood 
PLoS Medicine  2008;5(5):e101.
Childhood lead exposure is a purported risk factor for antisocial behavior, but prior studies either relied on indirect measures of exposure or did not follow participants into adulthood to examine the relationship between lead exposure and criminal activity in young adults. The objective of this study was to determine if prenatal and childhood blood lead concentrations are associated with arrests for criminal offenses.
Methods and Findings
Pregnant women were recruited from four prenatal clinics in Cincinnati, Ohio if they resided in areas of the city with a high concentration of older, lead-contaminated housing. We studied 250 individuals, 19 to 24 y of age, out of 376 children who were recruited at birth between 1979 and 1984. Prenatal maternal blood lead concentrations were measured during the first or early second trimester of pregnancy. Childhood blood lead concentrations were measured on a quarterly and biannual basis through 6.5 y. Study participants were examined at an inner-city pediatric clinic and the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio. Total arrests and arrests for offenses involving violence were collected from official Hamilton County, Ohio criminal justice records. Main outcomes were the covariate-adjusted rate ratios (RR) for total arrests and arrests for violent crimes associated with each 5 μg/dl (0.24 μmol/l) increase in blood lead concentration. Adjusted total arrest rates were greater for each 5 μg/dl (0.24 μmol/l) increase in blood lead concentration: RR = 1.40 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.07–1.85) for prenatal blood lead, 1.07 (95% CI 0.88–1.29) for average childhood blood lead, and 1.27 (95% CI 1.03–1.57) for 6-year blood lead. Adjusted arrest rates for violent crimes were also greater for each 5 μg/dl increase in blood lead: RR = 1.34 (95% CI 0.88–2.03) for prenatal blood lead, 1.30 (95% CI 1.03–1.64) for average childhood blood lead, and 1.48 (95% CI 1.15–1.89) for 6-year blood lead.
Prenatal and postnatal blood lead concentrations are associated with higher rates of total arrests and/or arrests for offenses involving violence. This is the first prospective study to demonstrate an association between developmental exposure to lead and adult criminal behavior.
Kim Dietrich and colleagues find an association between developmental exposure to lead and adult criminal behavior.
Editors' Summary
Violent crime is an increasing problem in many countries, but why are some people more aggressive than others? Being male has been identified as a risk factor for violent criminal behavior in several studies, as have exposure to tobacco smoke before birth, having antisocial parents, and belonging to a poor family. Another potential risk factor for antisocial behavior as an adult is exposure to lead during childhood, although few studies have looked directly at whether childhood lead exposure is linked with criminal behavior in adulthood. Lead is a toxic metal that damages the nervous system when ingested or inhaled. It is present throughout the environment because of its widespread use in the past in paint, solder for water pipes, and gasoline. In 1978, 13.5 million US children had a blood lead level above 10 μg/dl, the current US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention blood lead level of concern (the average US blood lead level is 2 μg/dl). Lead paint and solder were banned in 1978 and 1986, respectively, by the US federal government; leaded gasoline was finally phased out in 1996. By 2002, only 310,000 US children had a blood lead level above 10 μg/dl. However, children exposed to lower levels of lead than this—through ingesting flakes or dust residues of old lead paint, for example—can have poor intellectual development and behavioral problems including aggression.
Why Was This Study Done?
Although some studies have suggested that childhood lead exposure is associated with later criminal behavior, these studies have often relied on indirect measurements of childhood lead exposure such as bone lead levels in young adults or a history of lead poisoning. Other studies that have measured childhood lead exposure directly have not followed their participants into adulthood. In this new study, the researchers investigate the association between actual measurements of prenatal and childhood blood lead concentrations and criminal arrests in early adulthood to get a clearer idea about whether early lead exposure is associated with subsequent violent behavior.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
Between 1979 and 1984, the researchers recruited pregnant women living in poor areas of Cincinnati, which had a high concentration of older, lead-contaminated housing, into the Cincinnati Lead Study. They measured the women's blood lead concentrations during pregnancy as an indication of their offspring's prenatal lead exposure and the children's blood lead levels regularly until they were six and half years old. They then obtained information from the local criminal justice records on how many times each of the 250 offspring had been arrested between becoming 18 years old and the end of October 2005. The researchers found that increased blood lead levels before birth and during early childhood were associated with higher rates of arrest for any reason and for violent crimes. For example, for every 5 μg/dl increase in blood lead levels at six years of age, the risk of being arrested for a violent crime as a young adult increased by almost 50% (the “relative risk” was 1.48).
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings provide strong evidence that early lead exposure is a risk factor for criminal behavior, including violent crime, in adulthood. One possibility, which the authors were unable to assess in this study, is that lead exposure impairs intelligence, which in turn makes it more likely that a criminal offender will be caught (i.e., arrested). The authors discuss a number of limitations in their study—for example, they probably did not capture all criminal behavior (since most criminal behavior does not lead to arrest). Although both environmental lead levels and crime rates have dropped over the last 30 years in the US, the overall reduction was not uniform—inner-city children remain particularly vulnerable to lead exposure. The findings therefore suggest that a further reduction in childhood lead exposure might be an important and achievable way to reduce violent crime.
Additional Information.
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
A PLoS Medicine Perspective article by David Bellinger further discusses this study and a related paper on childhood lead exposure and brain volume reduction in adulthood
Study researcher Kim Dietrich can be heard talking about “The Lethal Legacy of Lead”, a brief MP3 about lead exposure and violent crime
Toxtown, an interactive site from the US National Library of Medicine, provides information on environmental health concerns including exposure to lead (in English and Spanish)
The US Environmental Protection Agency provides information on lead in paint, dust, and soil and on protecting children from lead poisoning (in English and Spanish)
MedlinePlus provides a list of links to information on lead poisoning (in English and Spanish)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information about its Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
The UK Health Protection Agency also provides information about lead and its health hazards
PMCID: PMC2689664  PMID: 18507497
23.  Effects of Prenatal Cocaine Exposure on Special Education in School-Aged Children 
Pediatrics  2008;122(1):e83-e91.
The objective of this study was to evaluate the effects of prenatal cocaine exposure on special education at age 7 with adjustment for covariates.
As part of the prospective, longitudinal, multisite study of children with prenatal cocaine exposure (Maternal Lifestyle Study), school records were reviewed for 943 children at 7 years to determine involvement in special education outcomes: (1) individualized education plan; (2) special education conditions; (3) support services; (4) special education classes; and (5) speech and language services. Logistic regression was used to examine the effect of prenatal cocaine exposure on these outcomes with environmental, maternal, and infant medical variables as covariates, as well as with and without low child IQ.
Complete data for each analysis model were available for 737 to 916 children. When controlling for covariates including low child IQ, prenatal cocaine exposure had a significant effect on individualized education plan. When low child IQ was not included in the model, prenatal cocaine exposure had a significant effect on support services. Male gender, low birth weight, white race, and low child IQ also predicted individualized education plan. Low birth weight and low child IQ were significant in all models. White race was also significant in speech and language services. Other covariate effects were model specific. When included in the models, low child IQ accounted for more of the variance and changed the significance of other covariates.
Prenatal cocaine exposure increased the likelihood of receiving an individualized education plan and support services, with adjustment for covariates. Low birth weight and low child IQ increased the likelihood of all outcomes. The finding that white children were more likely to get an individualized education plan and speech and language services could indicate a greater advantage in getting educational resources for this population.
PMCID: PMC2861352  PMID: 18541617
prenatal exposure; cocaine; education; schools
24.  Overweight at age two years in a multi-ethnic cohort (ABCD study): the role of prenatal factors, birth outcomes and postnatal factors 
BMC Public Health  2011;11:611.
Childhood overweight/obesity is a major public health problem worldwide which disproportionally affects specific ethnic groups. Little is known about whether such differences already exist at an early age and which factors contribute to these ethnic differences. Therefore, the present study assessed possible ethnic differences in overweight at age 2 years, and the potential explanatory role of prenatal factors, birth outcomes and postnatal factors.
Data were derived from a multi-ethnic cohort in the Netherlands (the ABCD study). Weight and height data of 3,156 singleton infants at age 2 years were used. Five ethnic populations were distinguished: Dutch native (n = 1,718), African descent (n = 238), Turkish (n = 162), Moroccan (n = 245) and other non-Dutch (n = 793). Overweight status was defined by the International Obesity Task Force guidelines. The explanatory role of prenatal factors, birth outcomes and postnatal factors in ethnic disparities in overweight (including obesity) was assessed by logistic regression analysis.
Compared to the native Dutch (7.1%), prevalence of overweight was higher in the Turkish (19.8%) and Moroccan (16.7%) group, whereas the prevalence was not increased in the African descent (9.2%) and other non-Dutch (8.8%) group. Although maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index partly explained the ethnic differences, the odds ratio (OR) of being overweight remained higher in the Turkish (OR: 2.66; 95%CI: 1.56-4.53) and Moroccan (OR: 2.11; 95%CI: 1.31-3.38) groups after adjusting for prenatal factors. The remaining differences were largely accounted for by weight gain during the first 6 months of life (postnatal factor). Maternal height, birth weight and gender were independent predictors for overweight at age 2 years, but did not explain the ethnic differences.
Turkish and Moroccan children in the Netherlands have 2- to 3-fold higher odds for being overweight at age 2 years, which is largely attributed to maternal pre-pregnancy BMI and weight gain during the first 6 months of life. Further study on the underlying factors of this early weight gain is required to tackle ethnic differences in overweight among these children.
PMCID: PMC3171368  PMID: 21806791
body mass index (BMI); childhood; ethnicity; overweight; weight gain
25.  Metabolic Profile in Early Pregnancy Is Associated with Offspring Adiposity at 4 Years of Age: The Rhea Pregnancy Cohort Crete, Greece 
PLoS ONE  2015;10(5):e0126327.
Maternal pre-pregnancy obesity may increase the risk of childhood obesity but it is unknown whether other metabolic factors in early pregnancy such as lipid profile and hypertension are associated with offspring cardiometabolic traits.
Our objective was to investigate whether fasting lipid, glucose, and insulin levels during early pregnancy and maternal pre-pregnancy weight status, are associated with offspring adiposity measures, lipid levels and blood pressure at preschool age.
Design and Methods
The study included 618 mother-child pairs of the pregnancy cohort “Rhea” study in Crete, Greece. Pregnant women were recruited at the first prenatal visit (mean: 12weeks, SD: 0.7). A subset of 348 women provided fasting serum samples for glucose and lipid measurements. Outcomes measures were body mass index, abdominal circumference, sum of skinfold thickness, and blood pressure measurements at 4 years of age. A subsample of 525 children provided non-fasting blood samples for lipid measurements.
Pre-pregnancy overweight/obesity was associated with greater risk of offspring overweight/obesity (RR: 1.83, 95%CI: 1.19, 2.81), central adiposity (RR: 1.97, 95%CI: 1.11, 3.49), and greater fat mass by 5.10mm (95%CI: 2.49, 7.71) at 4 years of age. These associations were more pronounced in girls. An increase of 40mg/dl in fasting serum cholesterol levels in early pregnancy was associated with greater skinfold thickness by 3.30mm (95%CI: 1.41, 5.20) at 4 years of age after adjusting for pre-pregnancy BMI and several other confounders. An increase of 10mmHg in diastolic blood pressure in early pregnancy was associated with increased risk of offspring overweight/obesity (RR: 1.22, 95%CI: 1.03, 1.45), and greater skinfold thickness by 1.71mm (95% CI: 0.57, 2.86) at 4 years of age.
Metabolic dysregulation in early pregnancy may increase the risk of obesity at preschool age.
PMCID: PMC4430416  PMID: 25970502

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