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1.  In-Utero Exposure to Bereavement and Offspring IQ: A Danish National Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e88477.
Intelligence is a life-long trait that has strong influences on lifestyle, adult morbidity and life expectancy. Hence, lower cognitive abilities are therefore of public health interest. Our primary aim was to examine if prenatal bereavement measured as exposure to death of a close family member is associated with the intelligence quotient (IQ) scores at 18-years of age of adult Danish males completing a military cognitive screening examination.
We extracted records for the Danish military screening test and found kinship links with biological parents, siblings, and maternal grandparents using the Danish Civil Registration System (N = 167,900). The prenatal exposure period was defined as 12 months before conception until birth of the child. We categorized children as exposed in utero to severe stress (bereavement) during prenatal life if their mothers lost an elder child, husband, parent or sibling during the prenatal period; the remaining children were included in the unexposed cohort. Mean score estimates were adjusted for maternal and paternal age at birth, residence, income, maternal education, gestational age at birth and birth weight.
When exposure was due to death of a father the offsprings' mean IQ scores were lower among men completing the military recruitment exam compared to their unexposed counterparts, adjusted difference of 6.5 standard IQ points (p-value = 0.01). We did not observe a clinically significant association between exposure to prenatal maternal bereavement caused by death of a sibling, maternal uncle/aunt or maternal grandparent even after stratifying deaths only due to traumatic events.
We found maternal bereavement to be adversely associated with IQ in male offspring, which could be related to prenatal stress exposure though more likely is due to changes in family conditions after death of the father. This finding supports other literature on maternal adversity during fetal life and cognitive development in the offspring.
PMCID: PMC3928249  PMID: 24558394
2.  Early Life Disease Programming during the Preconception and Prenatal Period: Making the Link between Stressful Life Events and Type-1 Diabetes 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11523.
To assess the risk of developing Type-1 diabetes among children who were exposed to maternal bereavement during the prenatal or 1-year preconception period.
We identified N = 1,548,746 singleton births born in Denmark between January 1st 1979 through December 31st 2004, and their next of kin. Altogether, 39,857 children were exposed to bereavement during their prenatal life. The main outcome of interest was hospitalization for type-1 diabetes (ICD 8: 249; ICD 10: E10).
We found the strongest association for type-1 diabetes among children exposed to traumatic father or sibling deaths (aIRR: 2.03, 1.22–3.38); the association was mainly seen for girls (aIRR: 2.91, 1.61–5.26).
We found evidence to suggest that female fetuses exposed to severe prenatal stress are at increased risk for developing type-1 diabetes.
PMCID: PMC2901388  PMID: 20634978
3.  Mortality after Parental Death in Childhood: A Nationwide Cohort Study from Three Nordic Countries 
PLoS Medicine  2014;11(7):e1001679.
Jiong Li and colleagues examine mortality rates in children who lost a parent before 18 years old compared with those who did not using population-based data from Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Bereavement by spousal death and child death in adulthood has been shown to lead to an increased risk of mortality. Maternal death in infancy or parental death in early childhood may have an impact on mortality but evidence has been limited to short-term or selected causes of death. Little is known about long-term or cause-specific mortality after parental death in childhood.
Methods and Findings
This cohort study included all persons born in Denmark from 1968 to 2008 (n = 2,789,807) and in Sweden from 1973 to 2006 (n = 3,380,301), and a random sample of 89.3% of all born in Finland from 1987 to 2007 (n = 1,131,905). A total of 189,094 persons were included in the exposed cohort when they lost a parent before 18 years old. Log-linear Poisson regression was used to estimate mortality rate ratio (MRR). Parental death was associated with a 50% increased all-cause mortality (MRR = 1.50, 95% CI 1.43–1.58). The risks were increased for most specific cause groups and the highest MRRs were observed when the cause of child death and the cause of parental death were in the same category. Parental unnatural death was associated with a higher mortality risk (MRR = 1.84, 95% CI 1.71–2.00) than parental natural death (MRR = 1.33, 95% CI 1.24–1.41). The magnitude of the associations varied according to type of death and age at bereavement over different follow-up periods. The main limitation of the study is the lack of data on post-bereavement information on the quality of the parent-child relationship, lifestyles, and common physical environment.
Parental death in childhood or adolescence is associated with increased all-cause mortality into early adulthood. Since an increased mortality reflects both genetic susceptibility and long-term impacts of parental death on health and social well-being, our findings have implications in clinical responses and public health strategies.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
When someone close dies, it is normal to grieve, to mourn the loss of that individual. Initially, people who have lost a loved one often feel numb and disorientated and find it hard to grasp what has happened. Later, people may feel angry or guilty, and may be overwhelmed by feelings of sadness and despair. They may become depressed or anxious and may even feel suicidal. People who are grieving can also have physical reactions to their loss such as sleep problems, changes in appetite, and illness. How long bereavement—the period of grief and mourning after a death—lasts and how badly it affects an individual depends on the relationship between the individual and the deceased person, on whether the death was expected, and on how much support the mourner receives from relatives, friends, and professionals.
Why Was This Study Done?
The loss of a life-partner or of a child is associated with an increased risk of death (mortality), and there is also some evidence that the death of a parent during childhood leads to an increased mortality risk in the short term. However, little is known about the long-term impact on mortality of early parental loss or whether the impact varies with the type of death—a natural death from illness or an unnatural death from external causes such as an accident—or with the specific cause of death. A better understanding of the impact of early bereavement on mortality is needed to ensure that bereaved children receive appropriate health and social support after a parent's death. Here, the researchers undertake a nationwide cohort study in three Nordic countries to investigate long-term and cause-specific mortality after parental death in childhood. A cohort study compares the occurrence of an event (here, death) in a group of individuals who have been exposed to a particular variable (here, early parental loss) with the occurrence of the same event in an unexposed cohort.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers obtained data on everyone born in Denmark from 1968 to 2008 and in Sweden from 1973 to 2006, and on most people born in Finland from 1987 to 2007 (more than 7 million individuals in total) from national registries. They identified 189,094 individuals who had lost a parent between the age of 6 months and 18 years. They then estimated the mortality rate ratio (MRR) associated with parental death during childhood or adolescence by comparing the number of deaths in this exposed cohort (after excluding children who died on the same day as a parent or shortly after from the same cause) and in the unexposed cohort. Compared with the unexposed cohort, the exposed cohort had 50% higher all-cause mortality (MRR = 1.50). The risk of mortality in the exposed cohort was increased for most major categories of cause of death but the highest MRRs were seen when the cause of death in children, adolescents, and young adults during follow-up and the cause of parental death were in the same category. Notably, parental unnatural death was associated with a higher mortality risk (MRR = 1.84) than parental natural death (MRR = 1.33). Finally, the exposed cohort had increased all-cause MRRs well into early adulthood irrespective of child age at parental death, and the magnitude of MRRs differed by child age at parental death and by type of death.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings show that in three high-income Nordic countries parental death during childhood and adolescence is associated with an increased risk of all-cause mortality into early adulthood, irrespective of sex and age at bereavement and after accounting for baseline characteristics such as socioeconomic status. Part of this association may be due to “confounding” factors—the people who lost a parent during childhood may have shared other unknown characteristics that increased their risk of death. Because the study was undertaken in high-income countries, these findings are unlikely to be the result of a lack of material or health care needs. Rather, the increased mortality among the exposed group reflects both genetic susceptibility and the long-term impacts of parental death on health and social well-being. Given that increased mortality probably only represents the tip of the iceberg of the adverse effects of early bereavement, these findings highlight the need to provide long-term health and social support to bereaved children.
Additional Information
Please access these websites via the online version of this summary at
The UK National Health Service Choices website provides information about bereavement, including personal stories; it also provides information about children and bereavement and about young people and bereavement, including links to not-for-profit organizations that support children through bereavement
The US National Cancer Institute has detailed information about dealing with bereavement for the public and for health professionals that includes a section on children and grief (in English and Spanish)
The US National Alliance for Grieving Children promotes awareness of the needs of children and teens grieving a death and provides education and resources for anyone who wants to support them
MedlinePlus provides links to other resources about bereavement (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC4106717  PMID: 25051501
4.  Prenatal Exposure to Maternal Bereavement and Childbirths in the Offspring: A Population-Based Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(7):e103353.
The decline in birth rates is a concern in public health. Fertility is partly determined before birth by the intrauterine environment and prenatal exposure to maternal stress could, through hormonal disturbance, play a role. There has been such evidence from animal studies but not from humans. We aimed to examine the association between prenatal stress due to maternal bereavement following the death of a relative and childbirths in the offspring.
Materials and Methods
This population-based cohort study included all subjects born in Denmark after 1968 and in Sweden after 1973 and follow-up started at the age of 12 years. Subjects were categorized as exposed if their mothers lost a close relative during pregnancy or the year before and unexposed otherwise. The main outcomes were age at first child and age-specific mean numbers of childbirths. Data was analyzed using Cox Proportional Hazards models stratified by gender and adjusted for several covariates. Subanalyses were performed considering the type of relative deceased and timing of bereavement.
A total of 4,121,596 subjects were followed-up until up to 41 years of age. Of these subjects, 93,635 (2.3%) were exposed and 981,989 (23.8%) had at least one child during follow-up time. Compared to unexposed, the hazard ratio (HR) [95% confidence interval] of having at least one child for exposed males and females were 0.98 [0.96–1.01] and 1.01 [0.98–1.03], respectively. We found a slightly reduced probability of having children in females born to mothers who lost a parent with HR = 0.97 [0.94–0.99] and increased probability in females born to mothers who lost another child (HR = 1.09 [1.04–1.14]), the spouse (HR = 1.29 [1.12–1.48]) or a sibling (HR = 1.13 [1.01–1.27]).
Our results suggested no overall association between prenatal exposure to maternal stress and having a child in early adulthood but a longer time of follow-up is necessary in order to reach a firmer conclusion.
PMCID: PMC4113360  PMID: 25068458
5.  Severe Maternal Stress Exposure Due to Bereavement before, during and after Pregnancy and Risk of Overweight and Obesity in Young Adult Men: A Danish National Cohort Study 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(5):e97490.
Perinatal stress may programme overweight and obesity. We examined whether maternal pre- and post-natal bereavement was associated with overweight and obesity in young men.
A cohort study was conducted including 119,908 men born from 1976 to 1993 and examined for military service between 2006 and 2011. Among them, 4,813 conscripts were born to mothers bereaved by death of a close relative from 12 months preconception to birth of the child (exposed group). Median body mass index (BMI) and prevalence of overweight and obesity were estimated. Odds ratio of overweight (BMI≥25 kg/m2) and obesity (BMI≥30 kg/m2) were estimated by logistic regression analysis adjusted for maternal educational level.
Median BMI was similar in the exposed and the unexposed group but the prevalence of overweight (33.3% versus 30.4%, p = 0.02) and obesity (9.8% versus 8.5%, p = 0.06) was higher in the exposed group. Conscripts exposed 6 to 0 months before conception and during pregnancy had a higher risk of overweight (odds ratio 1.15, 95% confidence interval (CI): 1.03; 1.27 and odds ratio 1.13, 95% CI: 1.03; 1.25, respectively). Conscripts born to mothers who experienced death of the child’s biological father before child birth had a two-fold risk of obesity (odds ratio 2.00, 95% CI: 0.93; 4.31). There was no elevated risk in those who experienced maternal bereavement postnatally.
Maternal bereavement during the prenatal period was associated with increased risk of overweight or obesity in a group of young male conscripts, and this may possibly be reflected to severe stress exposure early in life. However, not all associations were clear, and further studies are warranted.
PMCID: PMC4020839  PMID: 24828434
6.  Severe bereavement stress during the prenatal and childhood periods and risk of psychosis in later life: population based cohort study 
Objective To examine the risk of psychosis associated with severe bereavement stress during the antenatal and postnatal period, between conception to adolescence, and with different causes of death.
Design Population based cohort study.
Setting Swedish national registers including births between 1973 and 1985 and followed-up to 2006.
Participants In a cohort of 1 045 336 Swedish births (1973-85), offspring born to mothers exposed to severe maternal bereavement stress six months before conception or during pregnancy, or exposed to loss of a close family member subsequently from birth to 13 years of age were followed until 2006. Admissions were identified by linkage to national patient registers.
Main outcome measures Crude and adjusted odds ratios for all psychosis, non-affective psychosis, and affective psychosis.
Results Maternal bereavement stress occurring preconception or during the prenatal period was not associated with a significant excess risk of psychosis in offspring (adjusted odds ratio, preconception 1.24, 95% confidence interval 0.96 to 1.62; first trimester 0.95, 0.58 to1.56; second trimester 0.79, 0.46 to 1.33; third trimester 1.14, 0.78 to 1.66). Risks increased modestly after exposure to the loss of a close family member from birth to adolescence for all psychoses (adjusted odds ratio 1.17, 1.04 to 1.32). The pattern of risk was generally similar for non-affective and affective psychosis. Thus estimates were higher after death in the nuclear compared with extended family but remained non-significant for prenatal exposure; the earlier the exposure to death in the nuclear family occurred in childhood (all psychoses: adjusted odds ratio, birth to 2.9 years 1.84, 1.41 to 2.41; 3-6.9 years 1.47, 1.16 to 1.85; 7-12.9 years 1.32, 1.10 to 1.58) and after suicide. Following suicide, risks were especially higher for affective psychosis (birth to 2.9 years 3.33, 2.00 to 5.56; 6.9 years 1.84, 1.04 to 3.25; 7-12.9 years 2.68, 1.84 to 3.92). Adjustment for key confounders attenuated but did not explain associations with risk.
Conclusions Postnatal but not prenatal bereavement stress in mothers is associated with an increased risk of psychosis in offspring. Risks are especially high for affective psychosis after suicide in the nuclear family, an effect that is not explained by family psychiatric history. Future studies are needed to understand possible sources of risk and resilience so that structures can be put in place to support vulnerable children and their families.
PMCID: PMC3898661  PMID: 24449616
7.  Maternal Bereavement and Childhood Asthma—Analyses in Two Large Samples of Swedish Children 
PLoS ONE  2011;6(11):e27202.
Prenatal factors such as prenatal psychological stress might influence the development of childhood asthma.
Methodology and Principal Findings
We assessed the association between maternal bereavement shortly before and during pregnancy, as a proxy for prenatal stress, and the risk of childhood asthma in the offspring, based on two samples of children 1–4 (n = 426 334) and 7–12 (n = 493 813) years assembled from the Swedish Medical Birth Register. Exposure was maternal bereavement of a close relative from one year before pregnancy to child birth. Asthma event was defined by a hospital contact for asthma or at least two dispenses of inhaled corticosteroids or montelukast. In the younger sample we calculated hazards ratios (HRs) of a first-ever asthma event using Cox models and in the older sample odds ratio (ORs) of an asthma attack during 12 months using logistic regression. Compared to unexposed boys, exposed boys seemed to have a weakly higher risk of first-ever asthma event at 1–4 years (HR: 1.09; 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.98, 1.22) as well as an asthma attack during 12 months at 7–12 years (OR: 1.10; 95% CI: 0.96, 1.24). No association was suggested for girls. Boys exposed during the second trimester had a significantly higher risk of asthma event at 1–4 years (HR: 1.55; 95% CI: 1.19, 2.02) and asthma attack at 7–12 years if the bereavement was an older child (OR: 1.58; 95% CI: 1.11, 2.25). The associations tended to be stronger if the bereavement was due to a traumatic death compared to natural death, but the difference was not statistically significant.
Our results showed some evidence for a positive association between prenatal stress and childhood asthma among boys but not girls.
PMCID: PMC3210147  PMID: 22087265
8.  Psychological Stress and Hospitalization for Childhood Asthma-a Nationwide Cohort Study in Two Nordic Countries 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e78816.
Exposures to psychological stress in early life may contribute to the development or exacerbation of asthma. We undertook a cohort study based on data from several population-based registers in Denmark and Sweden to examine whether bereavement in childhood led to increased asthma hospitalization.
All singleton children born in Denmark during 1977-2008 and in Sweden during 1973-2006 were included in the study (N=5,202,576). The children were followed from birth to the date of first asthma hospitalization, emigration, death, their 18th birthday, or the end of study (31 December 2007 in Sweden and 31 December 2008 in Denmark), whichever came first. All the children were assigned to the non-bereaved group until they lost a close relative (mother, father or a sibling), from when they were included in the bereaved group. We evaluated the hazard ratio (HR) of first hospitalization for asthma in bereaved children using Cox proportional hazards regression models, compared to those who were in the non-bereaved group. We also did a sub-analysis on the association between bereavement and first asthma medication.
A total of 147,829 children were hospitalized for asthma. The overall adjusted HR of asthma hospitalization in bereaved children was 1.10 (95% confidence interval (CI): 1.04-1.16), compared to non-bereaved children. The risk of asthma hospitalization was increased in those who lost a close relative at age of 14-17 years (HR=1.54, 95% CI: 1.23-1.92), but not in younger age groups. The association between bereavement and asthma hospitalization did not change over time since bereavement. In the sub-analysis in singleton live births during 1996-2008 recorded in the DMBR, bereavement was associated with a lower use of asthma medication (HR=0.87, 95% CI: 0.80-0.95).
Our data suggests that psychological stress following bereavement in late adolescence is associated with an increased risk of asthma hospitalization or lowers the threshold for asthma hospitalization.
PMCID: PMC3808299  PMID: 24205324
9.  Prenatal Stress Exposure Related to Maternal Bereavement and Risk of Childhood Overweight 
PLoS ONE  2010;5(7):e11896.
It has been suggested that prenatal stress contributes to the risk of obesity later in life. In a population–based cohort study, we examined whether prenatal stress related to maternal bereavement during pregnancy was associated with the risk of overweight in offspring during school age.
Methodology/Principal Findings
We followed 65,212 children born in Denmark from 1970–1989 who underwent health examinations from 7 to 13 years of age in public or private schools in Copenhagen. We identified 459 children as exposed to prenatal stress, defined by being born to mothers who were bereaved by death of a close family member from one year before pregnancy until birth of the child. We compared the prevalence of overweight between the exposed and the unexposed. Body mass index (BMI) values and prevalence of overweight were higher in the exposed children, but not significantly so until from 10 years of age and onwards, as compared with the unexposed children. For example, the adjusted odds ratio (OR) for overweight was 1.68 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.08–2.61) at 12 years of age and 1.63 (95% CI 1.00–2.61) at 13 years of age. The highest ORs were observed when the death occurred in the period from 6 to 0 month before pregnancy (OR 3.31, 95% CI 1.71–6.42 at age 12, and OR 2.31, 95% CI 1.08–4.97 at age 13).
Our results suggest that severe pre-pregnancy stress is associated with an increased risk of overweight in the offspring in later childhood.
PMCID: PMC2912844  PMID: 20689593
10.  Effects of Prenatal and Perinatal Exposure to Fine Air Pollutants and Maternal Fish Consumption on the Occurrence of Infantile Eczema 
As there is a scarcity of evidence on potential hazards and preventive factors for infantile eczema operating in the prenatal period, the main goal of this study was to assess the role of prenatal exposure to fine particulate matter and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) in the occurrence of infant eczema jointly with the possible modulating effect of maternal fish consumption.
The study sample consisted of 469 women enrolled during pregnancy, who gave birth to term babies (>36 weeks of gestation). Among all pregnant women recruited, personal measurements of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) were performed over 48 h in the second trimester of pregnancy. After delivery, every 3 months in the first year of the newborn's life, a detailed, standardized, face-to-face interview was administered to each mother, in the process of which a trained interviewer recorded any history of infantile eczema and data on potential environmental hazards. The estimated risk of eczema related to higher prenatal exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5 >53.0 μg/m3) and postnatal ETS as well as the protective effect of maternal fish intake were adjusted for potential confounders in a multivariable logistic regression model.
While the separate effects of higher prenatal PM2.5 and postnatal ETS exposure were not statistically significant, their joint effect appeared to have a significant influence on the occurrence of infantile eczema [odds ratio 2.39, 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.10–5.18]. With maternal fish intake of more than 205 g/week, the risk of eczema decreased by 43% (odds ratio 0.57, 95% CI 0.35–0.93). The incidence rate ratio (IRR) for eczema symptoms, estimated from the Poisson regression model, was increased with both higher exposure to prenatal PM2.5 and postnatal ETS (IRR 1.55, 95% CI 0.99–2.44) and in children of atopic mothers (IRR 1.35, 95% CI 1.04–1.75) but was lower in girls (IRR 0.78, 95% CI 0.61–1.00). The observed preventive effect of fish consumption on the frequency of eczema symptoms was consistent with the results of the logistic analysis (IRR 0.72, 95% CI 0.52–0.99).
The findings indicate that higher prenatal exposure to fine particulate matter combined with postnatal exposure to ETS may increase the risk of infant eczema, while maternal fish intake during pregnancy may reduce the risk of infantile eczema.
PMCID: PMC3047761  PMID: 21293147
Fish consumption; Prenatal exposure to fine particles; Cow's milk allergy; Passive tobacco smoke; Cohort study
11.  The Relationship Between Maternal Depression, In-Home Violence, And Use Of Physical Punishment: What Is The Role Of Child Behavior? 
Archives of disease in childhood  2008;94(2):138-143.
Maternal depression and in-home violence are independently associated with the use of physical punishment on children; however, the combined impact of these factors on the practice of physical punishment is unknown, as is the extent to which their relationship to physical punishment varies with child behavior.
1) Determine the combined impact of maternal depression and violence exposure on one physical punishment practice, smacking; 2) Explore the role of child behaviors in this relationship.
Multivariable regression analysis of a nationally representative sample of US kindergarten children. Maternal depressive symptoms, violence exposure, and use of smacking as a discipline technique were measured by parent interview. Child behaviors were reported by teachers.
12,764 mother-child dyads were included in the analysis. The adjusted odds ratio (aOR) for smacking among mothers with depressive symptoms was 1.59 (95% CI 1.40, 1.80); among mothers exposed to in-home violence, 1.48 (95% CI 1.18, 1.85); among dually exposed mothers, 2.51 (95% CI 1.87, 3.37). Adjusting these models for child self-control or externalizing behavior yielded no change in these associations, and no effect modification by child behavior was detected. Among mothers reporting to smack their children, depression was associated with an increased smacking frequency (aIRR 1.12; 95% CI 1.01, 1.24); however, this association was reduced to borderline significance when adjusting the models for child self-control or externalizing behavior (aIRRs 1.10; 95% CI 1.00, 1.21). Depressed mothers who were also exposed to violence demonstrated higher rates of smacking (aIRR 1.29; 95% CI 1.09, 1.53); this remained stable when adjusting for child behaviors.
Maternal depression and violence exposure are associated with smacking as a means of punishment. The magnitude of this association is increased when depression and violence occur together. When coexistent, they also appear associated with the frequency of smacking. Child self-control and externalizing behavior do not appear to impact substantially the association between maternal depressive symptoms, violence exposure, and smacking.
PMCID: PMC2829298  PMID: 18786952
Maternal Depression; Violence; Corporal Punishment; Spanking; Smacking; Child Behavior
The main goal of the study was to determine the relationship between prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) measured by PAH-DNA adducts in umbilical cord blood and early wheeze. The level of PAH-DNA adducts in the cord blood is assumed to reflect the cumulative dose of PAHs absorbed by the fetus over the prenatal period. The effect of prenatal PAH exposure on respiratory health measured by the incidence rate ratio (IRR) for the number of wheezing days in the subsequent four year follow-up was adjusted for potential confounding factors such as personal prenatal exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), gender of child, maternal characteristics (age, education and atopy), parity, and mold/dampness in the home. The study sample includes 339 newborns of non-smoking mothers 18-35 years of age and free from chronic diseases, who were recruited from ambulatory prenatal clinics in the first or second trimester of pregnancy. The number of wheezing days during the first two years of life was positively associated with prenatal level of PAH-DNA adducts (IRR = 1.69, 95%CI = 1.52 – 1.88), prenatal particulate matter (PM2.5) level dichotomized by the median (IRR = 1.38; 95%CI: 1.25 – 1.51), maternal atopy (IRR = 1.43; 95%CI: 1.29 – 1.58), moldy/damp house (IRR = 1.43; 95%CI: 1.27 – 1.61). The level of maternal education and maternal age at delivery were inversely associated with the IRRs for wheeze. The significant association between frequency of wheeze and the level of prenatal environmental hazards (PAHs and PM2.5) was not observed at ages 3 or 4 years. Although the frequency of wheezing at ages 3 or 4 years was no longer associated with prenatal exposure to PAHs and PM2.5, its occurrence depended on the presence of wheezing in the first two years of life, which nearly tripled the risk of wheezing in later life. In conclusion, the findings may suggest that driving force for early wheezing (<24 months of age) are different to those leading to later onset of wheeze. As we reported no synergistic effects between prenatal PAH (measured by PAH-DNA adducts) and PM2.5 exposures on early wheeze, this suggests the two exposures may exert independent effects via different biological mechanism on wheeze.
PMCID: PMC3683604  PMID: 20444151
prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons; biomarkers of exposure; DNA adducts; early wheeze; 4-year olds; birth cohort study
13.  Antenatal maternal bereavement and childhood cancer in the offspring: a population-based cohort study in 6 million children 
British Journal of Cancer  2012;107(3):544-548.
Prenatal stress may increase the susceptibility to childhood cancer by affecting immune responses and hormonal balance. We examined whether antenatal stress following maternal bereavement increased the risk of childhood cancer.
All children born in Denmark from 1968 to 2007 (N=2 743 560) and in Sweden from 1973 to 2006 (N=3 400 212) were included in this study. We compared cancer risks in children born to women who lost a first-degree relative (a child, spouse, a parent, or a sibling) the year before pregnancy or during pregnancy with cancer risks in children of women who did not experience such bereavement.
A total of 9795 childhood cancer cases were observed during follow-up of 68 360 707 person years. Children born to women who lost a child or a spouse, but not those who lost other relatives, had an average 30% increased risk of any cancer (hazard ratio (HR) 1.30, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.96–1.77). The HRs were the highest for non-Hodgkin disease (512 cases in total, HR 3.40, 95% CI 1.51–7.65), hepatic cancer (125 cases in total, HR 5.51, 95% CI 1.34–22.64), and testicular cancer (86 cases in total, HR 8.52, 95% CI 2.03–37.73).
Our data suggest that severe antenatal stress following maternal bereavement, especially due to loss of a child or a spouse, is associated with an increased risk of certain childhood cancers in the offspring, such as hepatic cancer and non-Hodgkin disease, but not with childhood cancer in general.
PMCID: PMC3405225  PMID: 22759879
childhood cancer; bereavement; prenatal stress; mother; association
14.  Offspring psychopathology following preconception, prenatal, and postnatal maternal bereavement stress 
Psychological medicine  2013;44(1):10.1017/S0033291713000780.
Preconception, prenatal, and postnatal maternal stress are associated with increased offspring psychopathology, but findings are inconsistent and need replication. We estimated associations between maternal bereavement stress and offspring autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, suicide attempt, and completed suicide.
Using Swedish registers, we conducted the largest population-based study to date examining associations between stress exposure in 738,144 offspring born 1992–2000 for childhood outcomes and 2,155,221 offspring born 1973–1997 for adult outcomes with follow-up through 2009. Maternal stress was defined as death of a first degree relative during 6 months before conception, across pregnancy, or the first two postnatal years. Cox proportional survival analyses were used to obtain hazard ratios (HR) in unadjusted and adjusted analyses.
Marginal increased risk of bipolar disorder and schizophrenia following preconception bereavement stress was not significant. Third trimester prenatal stress increased risk of ASD (adjusted HR=1.58, 95% CI: 1.15–2.17) and ADHD (adjusted HR=1.31, 95% CI: 1.04–1.66). First postnatal year stress increased risk for offspring suicide attempt (adjusted HR=1.13, 95% CI: 1.02–1.25) and completed suicide (adjusted HR=1.51, 95% CI: 1.08–2.11). Bereavement stress during the second postnatal year increased risk of ASD (adjusted HR=1.30, 95% CI: 1.09–1.55).
Further research is needed on associations between preconception stress and psychopathological outcomes. Prenatal bereavement stress increases risk of offspring ASD and ADHD. Postnatal bereavement stress moderately increases risk of offspring suicide attempt, completed suicide, and ASD. Smaller previous studies may have overestimated associations between early stress and psychopathological outcomes.
PMCID: PMC3766407  PMID: 23591021
stress; preconception; prenatal; postnatal; psychiatric; psychopathology; autism; attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder; schizophrenia; suicide
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
Environment international  2009;35(6):877-884.
The main goal of the paper was to assess the pattern of risk factors having an impact on the onset of early wheezing phenotypes in the birth cohort of 468 two-year olds and to investigate the severity of respiratory illness in the two-year olds in relation to both wheezing phenotypes, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) and personal PM2.5 exposure over pregnancy period (fine particulate matter). The secondary goal of the paper was to assess possible association of early persistent wheezing with the length of the baby at birth. Pregnant women were recruited from ambulatory prenatal clinics in the first and second trimester of pregnancy. Only women 18–35 years of age, who claimed to be non-smokers, with singleton pregnancies, without illicit drug use and HIV infection, free from chronic diseases were eligible for the study. In the statistical analysis of respiratory health of children multinomial logistic regression and zero-inflated Poisson regression models were used. Approximately one third of the children in the study sample experienced wheezing in the first two years of life and in about two third of cases (67%) the symptom developed already in the first year of life. The early wheezing was easily reversible and in about 70% of infants with wheezing the symptom receded in the second year of life. The adjusted relative risk ratio (RRR) of persistent wheezing increased with maternal atopy (RRR = 3.05; 95%CI: 1.30 – 7.15), older siblings (RRR = 3.05; 95%CI: 1.67 – 5.58) and prenatal ETS exposure (RRR= 1.13; 95%CI: 1.04 – 1.23), but was inversely associated with the length of baby at birth (RRR = 0.88; 95%CI: 0.76 – 1.01). The adjusted incidence risk ratios (IRR) of coughing, difficult breathing, runny/stuffy nose and pharyngitis/tonsillitis in wheezers were much higher than that observed among non-wheezers and significantly depended on prenatal PM2.5 exposure, older siblings and maternal atopy. The study shows a clear inverse association between maternal age or maternal education and respiratory illnesses and calls for more research efforts aiming at explanation of factors hidden behind proxy measures of quality of maternal care of babies. The data support the hypothesis that burden of respiratory symptoms in early childhood and possibly in later life may be programmed already in prenatal period when the respiratory system is completing its growth and maturation.
PMCID: PMC2709737  PMID: 19394697
wheezing phenotypes; respiratory symptoms; prenatal and postnatal environmental air quality; birth cohort study
17.  Long-term psychosocial outcomes among bereaved siblings of children with cancer 
The death of a child from cancer affects the entire family. Little is known about the long-term psychosocial outcomes of bereaved siblings.
To describe: (1) the prevalence of risky health-behaviors, psychological distress, and social support among bereaved siblings; (2) potentially modifiable factors associated with poor outcomes.
Bereaved siblings were eligible for this dual-center, cross-sectional, survey-based study if they were ≥16 years-old and their parents had enrolled in one of three prior studies about caring for children with cancer at end of life. Linear regression models identified associations between personal perspectives before, during, and after the family's cancer experience and outcomes (health-behaviors, psychological distress, and social support).
Fifty-eight siblings completed surveys (62% response rate). They were approximately 12 years bereaved, with a mean age of 26 years at the time of the survey (SD=7.8). Anxiety, depression, and illicit substance use increased during the year following their brother/sister's death, but then returned to baseline. Siblings who reported dissatisfaction with communication, poor preparation for death, missed opportunities to say “goodbye,” and/or a perceived negative impact of the cancer experience on relationships tended to have higher distress and lower social support scores (p<0.001-0.031). Almost all siblings reported their loss still affected them; half stated the experience impacted current educational and career goals.
How siblings experience the death of a child with cancer may impact their long-term psychosocial well-being. Sibling-directed communication and concurrent supportive care during the cancer experience and the year following sibling death may mitigate poor long-term outcomes.
PMCID: PMC4280260  PMID: 24880001
bereavement; siblings; pediatric cancer; psychological distress; resilience; psychosocial outcomes; survivorship
18.  Major Radiodiagnostic Imaging in Pregnancy and the Risk of Childhood Malignancy: A Population-Based Cohort Study in Ontario 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(9):e1000337.
In a record-linkage study, Joel Ray and colleagues examine the association between diagnostic imaging during pregnancy and later childhood cancers.
The association between fetal exposure to major radiodiagnostic testing in pregnancy—computed tomography (CT) and radionuclide imaging—and the risk of childhood cancer is not established.
Methods and Findings
We completed a population-based study of 1.8 million maternal-child pairs in the province of Ontario, from 1991 to 2008. We used Ontario's universal health care–linked administrative databases to identify all term obstetrical deliveries and newborn records, inpatient and outpatient major radiodiagnostic services, as well as all children with a malignancy after birth. There were 5,590 mothers exposed to major radiodiagnostic testing in pregnancy (3.0 per 1,000) and 1,829,927 mothers not exposed. The rate of radiodiagnostic testing increased from 1.1 to 6.3 per 1,000 pregnancies over the study period; about 73% of tests were CT scans. After a median duration of follow-up of 8.9 years, four childhood cancers arose in the exposed group (1.13 per 10,000 person-years) and 2,539 cancers in the unexposed group (1.56 per 10,000 person-years), a crude hazard ratio of 0.69 (95% confidence interval 0.26–1.82). After adjusting for maternal age, income quintile, urban status, and maternal cancer, as well as infant sex, chromosomal or congenital anomalies, and major radiodiagnostic test exposure after birth, the risk was essentially unchanged (hazard ratio 0.68, 95% confidence interval 0.25–1.80).
Although major radiodiagnostic testing is now performed in about 1 in 160 pregnancies in Ontario, the absolute annual risk of childhood malignancy following exposure in utero remains about 1 in 10,000. Since the upper confidence limit of the relative risk of malignancy may be as high as 1.8 times that of an unexposed pregnancy, we cannot exclude the possibility that fetal exposure to CT or radionuclide imaging is carcinogenic.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
In industrialized countries, childhood cancer (any form of cancer in a child aged 14 years or under) remains a major cause of death. With the exception of a few known risk factors, such as acquired genetic predisposition to cancer, which accounts for about 10% of all childhood cancers, the etiology of most childhood cancer remains unknown. There is thought to be an association between exposure to ionizing radiation in pregnancy and the subsequent risk of development of cancer in the exposed mother's child, but the evidence base to support this association is conflicting. For example, studies examining maternal exposure to plain radiographs in pregnancy and subsequent childhood cancer are inconsistent. Furthermore, although their use has dramatically increased over the past two decades, little is known about the cancer risk related to certain types of radiodiagnostic tests, such as CT and radionuclide imaging, both of which expose the fetus to considerably higher doses of radiation than plain radiographs administered at the same anatomical level.
Why Was This Study Done?
Many women could be exposed to major radiodiagnostic tests, such as those used in emergency situations, before they are aware that they are pregnant, as almost 50% of pregnancies are unplanned. This situation means that it is important to determine the subsequent cancer risk to any child exposed to maternal radiodiagnostic tests before birth.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers conducted a retrospective population-based cohort study of women who delivered a live infant in Ontario, Canada between April 1, 1992 and March 31, 2008. The basis of the research was an anonymized database for the whole province of Ontario, where universal health care, including prenatal care and radiodiagnostic testing, is available to all residents. Database characteristics allowed the researchers to link maternal radiation exposure (a major radiodiagnostic test performed on the mother up to one day before her delivery date) in a specific (index) pregnancy to a subsequent malignancy in the child. After birth, maternal-infant pairs were only followed up if the infant was delivered at term, weighed 2,500 g or more, and survived for at least 30 days.
The researchers were able to follow up 1,835,517 maternal-child pairs. The overall rate of exposure to major radiodiagnostic testing in pregnancy was 3.0 per 1,000 and occurred at an estimated mean gestational age of 15.7 weeks. A total of four childhood cancers occurred in the exposed group and 2,539 cancers in the unexposed group corresponding to a crude hazard ratio of 0.69, which did not significantly change after adjustments were made for potential confounding factors, such as maternal age, sex, and the presence of any chromosomal or congenital anomalies in the infant. The overall prevalence of childhood cancer following exposure to CT or radionuclide imaging in pregnancy is under 0.07%, giving an incidence rate of 1.13 per 10,000 person-years.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings can help inform clinicians and mothers about the risk of childhood malignancy following major radiodiagnostic testing in pregnancy. The absolute risk appears to be low, while the relative risk is not materially higher than that of unexposed controls. However, as the upper confidence limit of the relative risk of malignancy may be a maximum of 1.8 times that of an unexposed pregnancy, the possibility that fetal exposure to CT or radionuclide imaging is carcinogenic cannot be excluded. Because this finding means that a very slight risk may exist, beta hCG testing should continue to be done in all potentially pregnant women before undergoing major radiodiagnostic testing, and lead apron shielding used in all women of reproductive age, whether or not known to be pregnant. In addition, nonradiation-emitting imaging, such as MRI and ultrasonography, should be considered first, when clinically appropriate. However, some pregnant women will still be faced with the decision to undergo CT or nuclear imaging because the test is clinically warranted. The findings of this study suggest that when clinically indicated, major radiodiagnostic testing in pregnancy should be performed, along with brief counseling to help lessen the anxiety experienced by an expectant mother before and after the birth of her child.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
For information for patients and caregivers on radiodiagnostic testing, see The Royal College of Radiologists
The National Cancer Institute provides information about childhood cancer
CureSearch for Children's Cancer provides additional information about research into childhood cancer
PMCID: PMC2935460  PMID: 20838660
19.  Early life bereavement and childhood cancer: a nationwide follow-up study in two countries 
BMJ Open  2013;3(5):e002864.
Childhood cancer is a leading cause of child deaths in affluent countries, but little is known about its aetiology. Psychological stress has been suggested to be associated with cancer in adults; whether this is also seen in childhood cancer is largely unknown. We investigated the association between bereavement as an indicator of severe childhood stress exposure and childhood cancer, using data from Danish and Swedish national registers.
Population-based cohort study.
Denmark and Sweden.
All live-born children born in Denmark between 1968 and 2007 (n=2 729 308) and in Sweden between 1973 and 2006 (n=3 395 166) were included in this study. Exposure was bereavement by the death of a close relative before 15 years of age. Follow-up started from birth and ended at the first of the following: date of a cancer diagnosis, death, emigration, day before their 15th birthday or end of follow-up (2007 in Denmark, 2006 in Sweden).
Outcome measures
Rates and HRs for all childhood cancers and specific childhood cancers.
A total of 1 505 938 (24.5%) children experienced bereavement at some point during their childhood and 9823 were diagnosed with cancer before the age of 15 years. The exposed children had a small (10%) increased risk of childhood cancer (HR 1.10; 95% CI 1.04 to 1.17). For specific cancers, a significant association was seen only for central nervous system tumours (HR 1.14; 95% CI 1.02 to 1.28).
Our data suggest that psychological stress in early life is associated with a small increased risk of childhood cancer.
PMCID: PMC3664350  PMID: 23793702
Childhood cancer; bereavement; psychological stress; risk factor; follow up
20.  Prenatal serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI) antidepressant exposure and serotonin transporter promoter genotype (SLC6A4) influence executive functions at 6 years of age 
Prenatal exposure to serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SRI) antidepressants and maternal depression may affect prefrontal cognitive skills (executive functions; EFs) including self-control, working memory and cognitive flexibility. We examined long-term effects of prenatal SRI exposure on EFs to determine whether effects are moderated by maternal mood and/or genetic variations in SLC6A4 (a gene that codes for the serotonin transporter [5-HTT] central to the regulation of synaptic serotonin levels and behavior). Children who were exposed to SRIs prenatally (SRI-exposed N = 26) and non-exposed (N = 38) were studied at age 6 years (M = 6.3; SD = 0.5) using the Hearts & Flowers task (H&F) to assess EFs. Maternal mood was measured during pregnancy (3rd trimester) and when the child was age 6 years (Hamilton Depression Scale). Parent reports of child behavior were also obtained (MacArthur Health & Behavior Questionnaire). Parents of prenatally SRI-exposed children reported fewer child externalizing and inattentive (ADHD) behaviors. Generalized estimate equation modeling showed a significant 3-way interaction between prenatal SRI exposure, SLC6A4 variant, and maternal mood at the 6-year time-point on H&F accuracy. For prenatally SRI-exposed children, regardless of maternal mood, the H&F accuracy of children with reduced 5HTT expression (a short [S] allele) remained stable. Even with increasing maternal depressive symptoms (though all below clinical threshold), EFs of children with at least one short allele were comparable to children with the same genotype whose mothers reported few if any depressive symptoms—in this sense they showed resilience. Children with two long (L) alleles were more sensitive to context. When their mothers had few depressive symptoms, LL children showed extremely good EF performance—better than any other group. When their mothers reported more depressive symptoms, LL children's EF performance was worse than that of any other group. In the face of a mother with a more depressed mood, EFs were best preserved in children prenatally exposed to SRIs and with at least one short SLC6A4 allele. Yet, prenatally-exposed LL children hold out promise of possibly superior EF if their mother's mood remains euthymic or improves.
PMCID: PMC3795328  PMID: 24130516
serotonin; executive function; childhood; prenatal exposure; SRI; SLC6A4 genotype; depression
21.  Can Prenatal Malaria Exposure Produce an Immune Tolerant Phenotype?: A Prospective Birth Cohort Study in Kenya 
PLoS Medicine  2009;6(7):e1000116.
In a prospective cohort study of newborns residing in a malaria holoendemic area of Kenya, Christopher King and colleagues find a subset of children born to malaria-infected women who acquire a tolerant phenotype, which persists into childhood and is associated with increased susceptibility to malarial infection and anemia.
Malaria in pregnancy can expose the fetus to malaria-infected erythrocytes or their soluble products, thereby stimulating T and B cell immune responses to malaria blood stage antigens. We hypothesized that fetal immune priming, or malaria exposure in the absence of priming (putative tolerance), affects the child's susceptibility to subsequent malaria infections.
Methods and Findings
We conducted a prospective birth cohort study of 586 newborns residing in a malaria-holoendemic area of Kenya who were examined biannually to age 3 years for malaria infection, and whose malaria-specific cellular and humoral immune responses were assessed. Newborns were classified as (i) sensitized (and thus exposed), as demonstrated by IFNγ, IL-2, IL-13, and/or IL-5 production by cord blood mononuclear cells (CBMCs) to malaria blood stage antigens, indicative of in utero priming (n = 246), (ii) exposed not sensitized (mother Plasmodium falciparum [Pf]+ and no CBMC production of IFNγ, IL-2, IL-13, and/or IL-5, n = 120), or (iii) not exposed (mother Pf−, no CBMC reactivity, n = 220). Exposed not sensitized children had evidence for prenatal immune experience demonstrated by increased IL-10 production and partial reversal of malaria antigen-specific hyporesponsiveness with IL-2+IL-15, indicative of immune tolerance. Relative risk data showed that the putatively tolerant children had a 1.61 (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.10–2.43; p = 0.024) and 1.34 (95% CI 0.95–1.87; p = 0.097) greater risk for malaria infection based on light microscopy (LM) or PCR diagnosis, respectively, compared to the not-exposed group, and a 1.41 (95%CI 0.97–2.07, p = 0.074) and 1.39 (95%CI 0.99–2.07, p = 0.053) greater risk of infection based on LM or PCR diagnosis, respectively, compared to the sensitized group. Putatively tolerant children had an average of 0.5 g/dl lower hemoglobin levels (p = 0.01) compared to the other two groups. Exposed not sensitized children also had 2- to 3-fold lower frequency of malaria antigen-driven IFNγ and/or IL-2 production (p<0.001) and higher IL-10 release (p<0.001) at 6-month follow-ups, when compared to sensitized and not-exposed children. Malaria blood stage–specific IgG antibody levels were similar among the three groups.
These results show that a subset of children exposed to malaria in utero acquire a tolerant phenotype to blood-stage antigens that persists into childhood and is associated with an increased susceptibility to malaria infection and anemia. This finding could have important implications for malaria vaccination of children residing in endemic areas.
Please see later in the article for Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Each year, Plasmodium falciparum, a mosquito-borne parasite, causes about 500 million cases of malaria and about one million people die as a result. Most of these deaths occur in young children in sub-Saharan Africa. Indeed, malaria accounts for a fifth of all childhood deaths in Africa, which makes it one of the most important childhood infectious diseases in this region. Very young children—those up to 6 months old—are relatively resistant to high-density parasitaemia and to clinical malaria, but children between 6 and 36 months old have an increased susceptibility to parasitaemia and to clinical malaria. Parasitaemia is the presence of P. falciparum parasites in the blood; a high density of blood-stage parasites causes the symptoms of clinical malaria (including high fever) and life-threatening organ damage and anemia (a lack of red blood cells).
Why Was This Study Done?
The age-dependent pattern of susceptibility to malaria suggests that young babies are protected by antibodies provided by their mothers, but that by 6 months old, when these antibodies have largely disappeared, babies have not yet fully developed their own anti-malaria immunity. However, little is known about the acquisition of anti-malaria immunity in infants, a process that needs to be understood in order to design effective vaccines for this age group. In particular, it is unclear how maternal malaria infection affects the acquisition of anti-malaria immunity. Malaria in pregnancy may expose the unborn child to malaria-infected red blood cells and to soluble malaria antigens (molecules that the immune system recognizes as foreign). This exposure could increase or decrease the child's immune responses to blood-stage malaria antigens and thus affect his/her ability to fight off malaria. In this study, the researchers investigated how prenatal malaria exposure affects anti-malaria immunity in young children and their susceptibility to subsequent malaria infections.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers determined which of 586 newborn babies enrolled into their study in an area of Kenya where malaria is very common had been exposed to P. falciparum before birth by looking for parasites in their mother's blood at delivery. They looked for malaria-specific immune responses in T cells (a type of immune system cell) in the newborn babies' cord blood by measuring the production of cytokines (molecules that either activate or inhibit the immune system) by these cells after exposure to malaria antigens. Finally, they examined the infants twice yearly for 3 years for malaria infection, malaria-specific immune responses, and anemia. The researchers classified the babies into three groups; cord blood cells of “sensitized” babies made activating cytokines in response to malaria antigens; cord blood cells of “exposed, not-sensitized” babies did not make activating cytokines but made an inhibitory cytokine (IL-10); and “not-exposed” babies were born to mothers with no P. falciparum infection at delivery. In their first 3 years of life, the exposed, not-sensitized group had a 60% greater risk of malaria infection (measured by counting parasites in their blood) than the unexposed group and a slightly higher risk of malaria infection than the sensitized group. They also had lower hemoglobulin levels (a sign of anemia) than the other babies. At age 6 months, the T cells of exposed, not-sensitized children were less likely to make activating cytokines in response to malaria antigens but made more IL-10 than the T cells of the other children; malaria-specific antibody levels were similar in the three groups.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that some children who are exposed to malaria before birth become “tolerant” to blood-stage malaria antigens. Exposure to malaria antigens before birth “tricks” their T cells into recognizing these antigens as self antigens. This immune tolerance, which persists into childhood, reduces the ability of the immune system to attack and destroy parasites and increases the susceptibility of these tolerant children to malaria infection. Why some children who are exposed to malaria before birth become tolerant while exposure to malaria antigens “primes” the immune system of other children to respond efficiently to these antigens is not clear. However, these findings could have important implications for the design of malaria vaccines for use in areas where children are often exposed to malaria before birth and for the design of strategies for the prevention of malaria during pregnancy.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
This study is further discussed in a PLoS Medicine Perspective by Lars Hviid
Information is available from the World Health Organization on malaria (in several languages)
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
Information is available from the Roll Back Malaria Partnership on all aspects of global malaria control, including information on malaria in pregnancy and on children and malaria
MedlinePlus provides links to additional information on malaria (in English and Spanish)
PMCID: PMC2707618  PMID: 19636353
22.  Prenatal Treatment for Serious Neurological Sequelae of Congenital Toxoplasmosis: An Observational Prospective Cohort Study 
PLoS Medicine  2010;7(10):e1000351.
An observational study by Ruth Gilbert and colleagues finds that prenatal treatment of congenital toxoplasmosis could substantially reduce the proportion of infected fetuses that develop serious neurological sequelae.
The effectiveness of prenatal treatment to prevent serious neurological sequelae (SNSD) of congenital toxoplasmosis is not known.
Methods and Findings
Congenital toxoplasmosis was prospectively identified by universal prenatal or neonatal screening in 14 European centres and children were followed for a median of 4 years. We evaluated determinants of postnatal death or SNSD defined by one or more of functional neurological abnormalities, severe bilateral visual impairment, or pregnancy termination for confirmed congenital toxoplasmosis. Two-thirds of the cohort received prenatal treatment (189/293; 65%). 23/293 (8%) fetuses developed SNSD of which nine were pregnancy terminations. Prenatal treatment reduced the risk of SNSD. The odds ratio for prenatal treatment, adjusted for gestational age at maternal seroconversion, was 0.24 (95% Bayesian credible intervals 0.07–0.71). This effect was robust to most sensitivity analyses. The number of infected fetuses needed to be treated to prevent one case of SNSD was three (95% Bayesian credible intervals 2–15) after maternal seroconversion at 10 weeks, and 18 (9–75) at 30 weeks of gestation. Pyrimethamine-sulphonamide treatment did not reduce SNSD compared with spiramycin alone (adjusted odds ratio 0.78, 0.21–2.95). The proportion of live-born infants with intracranial lesions detected postnatally who developed SNSD was 31.0% (17.0%–38.1%).
The finding that prenatal treatment reduced the risk of SNSD in infected fetuses should be interpreted with caution because of the low number of SNSD cases and uncertainty about the timing of maternal seroconversion. As these are observational data, policy decisions about screening require further evidence from a randomized trial of prenatal screening and from cost-effectiveness analyses that take into account the incidence and prevalence of maternal infection.
Please see later in the article for the Editors' Summary
Editors' Summary
Toxoplasmosis is a very common parasitic infection. People usually become infected with Toxoplasma gondii, the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis, by eating raw or undercooked meat that contains the parasite, but it can also be contracted by drinking unfiltered water or by handling cat litter. Most people with toxoplasmosis never know they have the disease. However, if a pregnant woman becomes infected with T. gondii, she can transmit the parasite to her unborn baby (fetus). Overall, about a quarter of women who catch toxoplasmosis during pregnancy transmit the parasite to their fetus. If transmission occurs early during pregnancy, the resultant “congenital toxoplasmosis” increases the risk of miscarriage and the risk of the baby being born with brain damage, epilepsy, deafness, blindness, or developmental problems (“serious neurological sequelae”). In the worst cases, babies may be born dead or die soon after birth. Congenital toxoplasmosis caught during the final third of pregnancy may not initially cause any health problems but eyesight problems often develop later in life.
Why Was This Study Done?
Clinicians can find out if a woman has been infected with T. gondii during pregnancy by looking for parasite-specific antibodies (proteins made by the immune system that fight infections) in her blood. If the pattern of antibodies suggests a recent infection, the woman can be given spiramycin or pyrimethamine-sulfonamide, antibiotics that are thought to reduce the risk of transmission to the fetus and the severity of toxoplasmosis in infected fetuses. In some countries where toxoplasmosis is particularly common (for example, France), pregnant women are routinely screened for toxoplasmosis and treated with antibiotics if there are signs of recent infection. But is prenatal treatment an effective way to prevent the serious neurological sequelae or postnatal death (SNSD) associated with congenital toxoplasmosis? In this observational study, the researchers examine this question by studying a group of children identified as having congenital toxoplasmosis by prenatal or neonatal screening in six European countries. An observational study measures outcomes in a group of patients without trying to influence those outcomes by providing a specific treatment.
What Did the Researchers Do and Find?
The researchers followed 293 children in whom congenital toxoplasmosis had been identified by prenatal screening (in France, Austria, and Italy) or by neonatal screening (in Denmark, Sweden, and Poland) for an average 4 years. Two-thirds of the children received prenatal treatment for toxoplasmosis and 23 fetuses (8% of the fetuses) developed SNSD; nine of these cases of SNSD were terminated during pregnancy. By comparing the number of cases of SNSD among children who received prenatal treatment with the number among children who did not receive prenatal treatment, the researchers estimate that prenatal treatment reduced the risk of SNSD by three-quarters. They also estimate that to prevent one case of SNSD after maternal infection at 10 weeks of pregnancy, it would be necessary to treat three fetuses with confirmed infection. To prevent one case of SNSD after maternal infection at 30 weeks of pregnancy, 18 fetuses would need to be treated. Finally, the researchers report that the effectiveness of pyrimethamine-sulfonamide and spiramycin (which is less toxic) was similar, and that a third of live-born infants with brain damage that was detected after birth subsequently developed SNSD.
What Do These Findings Mean?
These findings suggest that prenatal treatment of congenital toxoplasmosis could substantially reduce the proportion of infected fetuses that develop SNDS and would be particularly effective in fetuses whose mothers acquired T. gondii during the first third of pregnancy. These findings should be interpreted with caution, however, because of the small number of affected fetuses in the study and because of uncertainty about the timing of maternal infection. Furthermore, these findings only relate to the relatively benign strain of T. gondii that predominates in Europe and North America; further studies are needed to test whether prenatal treatment is effective against the more virulent strains of the parasite that occur in South America. Finally, because this study is an observational study, its findings might reflect differences between the study participants other than whether or not they received prenatal treatment. These findings need to be confirmed in randomized controlled trials of prenatal screening, therefore, before any policy decisions are made about routine prenatal screening and treatment for congenital toxoplasmosis.
Additional Information
Please access these Web sites via the online version of this summary at
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides detailed information about all aspects of toxoplasmosis, including toxoplasmosis in pregnant women (in English and Spanish)
The UK National Health Services Choices website has information for patients about toxoplasmosis and about the risks of toxoplasmosis during pregnancy
KidsHealth, a resource maintained by the Nemours Foundation (a not-for-profit organization for children's health), provides information for parents about toxoplasmosis (in English and Spanish)
Tommy's, a nonprofit organization that funds research on the health of babies, also has information on toxoplasmosis
MedlinePlus provides links to other information on toxoplasmosis (in English and Spanish)
EUROTOXO contains reports generated by a European consensus development project
Uptodate provides information about toxoplasmosis and pregnancy
PMCID: PMC2953528  PMID: 20967235
23.  Prenatal Psychobiological Predictors of Anxiety Risk in Preadolescent Children 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2012;37(8):1224-1233.
Experimental animal models have demonstrated that one of the primary consequences of prenatal stress is increased fear and anxiety in the offspring. Few prospective human studies have evaluated the consequences of prenatal stress on anxiety during preadolescence. The purpose of this investigation is to determine the consequences of prenatal exposure to both maternal biological stress signals and psychological distress on anxiety in preadolescent children. Participants included 178 mother-child pairs. Maternal psychological distress (general anxiety, perceived stress, depression and pregnancy-specific anxiety) and biological stress signals were evaluated at 19, 25, and 31 gestational weeks. Anxiety was evaluated in the children at 6 to 9 years of age using the Child Behavior Checklist. Analyses revealed that prenatal exposure to elevated maternal cortisol, depression, perceived stress and pregnancy-specific anxiety was associated with increased anxiety in children. These associations remained after considering obstetric, sociodemographic and postnatal maternal psychological distress; factors that could influence child development. When all of the prenatal measures were considered together, cortisol and pregnancy-specific anxiety independently predicted child anxiety. Children exposed to elevated prenatal maternal cortisol and pregnancy-specific anxiety were at an increased risk for developing anxiety problems during the preadolescent period. This project identifies prenatal risk factors associated with lasting consequences for child mental health and raises the possibility that reducing maternal distress during the prenatal period will have long term benefits for child well-being.
PMCID: PMC3356791  PMID: 22265195
anxiety; development; fetal programming; prenatal; cortisol; stress; pregnancy
24.  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
Early human development  2009;85(8):503-510.
The primary purpose of this study was to assess the relationship between very low-level of prenatal lead exposure measured in the cord blood (<5 µg/dL) and possible gender-specific cognitive deficits in the course of the first three years of life. The accumulated lead dose in infants over the pregnancy period was measured by the cord blood lead level (BLL) and cognitive deficits were assessed by the Bayley Mental Development Index (MDI). The study sample consisted of 457 children born to non-smoking women living in the inner city and the outlying residential areas of Krakow. The relationship between prenatal lead exposure and MDI scores measured at 12, 24 and 36 months of age and adjusted to a set of important covariates (gender of child, maternal education, parity, breastfeeding, prenatal and postnatal environmental tobacco smoke) was evaluated with linear multivariate regression, and the Generalized Estimating Equations (GEE) longitudinal panel model. The median of lead level in cord blood was 1.21 µg/dL with the range of values from 0.44 to 4.60 µg/dL. Neither prenatal BLL (dichotomized by median) nor other covariates affected MDI score at 12 months of age. Subsequent testing of children at 24 months of age showed a borderline significant inverse association of lead exposure and mental function (beta coeff. = −2.42, 95%CI: −4.90 to 0.03), but the interaction term (BLL × male gender) was not significant. At 36 months, prenatal lead exposure was inversely and significantly associated with cognitive function in boys (Spearman correlation coefficient = −0.239, p=0.0007) but not girls (r = − 0.058, p = 0.432) and the interaction between BLL and male gender was significant (beta coeff. = − 4.46; 95%CI: −8.28 to −0.63). Adjusted estimates of MDI deficit in boys at 36 months confirmed very strong negative impact of prenatal lead exposure (BLL>1.67µg/dL) compared with the lowest quartile of exposure (beta coeff. = −6.2, p = 0.002), but the effect in girls was insignificant (beta coeff = −0.74, p = 0.720). The average deficit of cognitive function in the total sample over the first three years of life (GEE model) associated with higher prenatal lead exposure was also significant (beta coefficient = − 3.00; 95%CI: −5.22 to −0.70). Beside prenatal lead exposure, presence of older siblings at home and prenatal environmental tobacco smoke had a negative impact on MDI score. Better maternal education showed a strong beneficial effect on the cognitive development of children. Conclusion: The study suggests that there might be no threshold for lead toxicity in children and provides evidence that 3-year old boys are more susceptible than girls to prenatal very low lead exposure. The results of the study should persuade policy makers to consider gender-related susceptibility to lead and possibly to other toxic hazards in setting environmental protection guidelines. To determine whether the cognitive deficit documented in this study persists to older ages, the follow-up of the children over the next several years is to be carried out.
PMCID: PMC3725459  PMID: 19450938
prenatal lead exposure; cognitive function; early childhood; prospective birth cohort study

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