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1.  Prepubertal start of father's smoking and increased body fat in his sons: further characterisation of paternal transgenerational responses 
European Journal of Human Genetics  2014;22(12):1382-1386.
Despite interest in the idea that transgenerational effects of adverse exposures might contribute to population health trends, there are few human data. This non-genetic inheritance is all the more remarkable when transmission is down the male-line as reported in a historical Swedish study, where the paternal grandfather's food supply in mid childhood was associated with the mortality rate in his grandsons. Using the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children's questionnaire data on smoking and smoking onset from 9886 fathers, we examined the growth of their children from 7–17 years. Adjusting for potential confounders, we assessed associations between body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, total fat mass and lean mass with the age at which the father had started smoking regularly. Of 5376 fathers who reported having ever smoked, 166 reported regular smoking <11 years of age. Before adjustment, those offspring whose fathers started smoking <11 years had the highest mean BMIs at each age tested. The adjusted mean differences in BMI, waist circumference and total fat mass in those sons whose fathers started smoking <11 years, compared with all other sons, increased with age, being significantly greater from 13 years onwards. There were no significant BMI associations in daughters, but they showed a reduction in total lean mass. Our results highlight the importance of the developmental timing of the paternal exposure as well as gender differences in offspring outcomes. Smoking by boys in mid childhood may contribute to obesity in adolescent boys of the next generation.
PMCID: PMC4085023  PMID: 24690679
2.  The anthropometry of children and adolescents may be influenced by the prenatal smoking habits of their grandmothers: A longitudinal cohort study 
American Journal of Human Biology  2014;26(6):731-739.
Previously, in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), we have shown different sex-specific birth anthropometric measurements contingent upon whether or not prenatal smoking was undertaken by paternal grandmother (PGM±), maternal grandmother (MGM±), and the study mother (M±). The findings raised the question as to whether there were long-term associations on the growth of the study children over time.
Measures of weight, height, body mass index, waist circumference, lean mass, and fat mass of children in the ALSPAC study from 7 to 17 years of age were used. We compared growth in four categories at each age: PGM+M− with PGM−M−; MGM+M− with MGM−M−; PGM+M+ with PGM−M+; MGM+M+ with MGM−M+; and adjusted for housing tenure, maternal education, parity, and paternal smoking at the start of the study pregnancy.
We found that if the PGM had, but the study mother had not, smoked in pregnancy, the girls were taller and both genders had greater bone and lean mass. However, if the MGM had smoked prenatally but the mother had not (MGM+M−), the boys became heavier than expected with increasing age—an association that was particularly due to lean rather than fat mass, reflected in increased strength and fitness. When both the maternal grandmother and the mother had smoked (MGM+M+) girls had reduced height, weight, and fat/lean/bone mass when compared with girls born to smoking mothers whose own mothers had not smoked (MGM−M+).
This study indicates that smoking in humans can have sex-specific transgenerational effects. Am. J. Hum. Biol. 26:731–739, 2014. © 2014 The Authors American Journal of Human Biology Published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
PMCID: PMC4238812  PMID: 25130101
3.  Predictors of positive and negative parenting behaviours: evidence from the ALSPAC cohort 
BMC Pediatrics  2014;14(1):247.
This study aimed to establish the predictors of positive and negative parenting behaviours in a United Kingdom population. The majority of previous research has focused on specific risk factors and has used a variety of outcome measures. This study used a single assessment of parenting behaviours and started with a wide range of potential pre- and post-natal variables; such an approach might be used to identify families who might benefit from parenting interventions.
Using a case-control subsample of 160 subjects from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), regression analysis was undertaken to model parenting behaviours at 12 months as measured by the Mellow Parenting Observational System.
Positive parenting increased with maternal age at delivery, levels of education and with prenatal anxiety. More negative interactions were observed among younger mothers, mothers with male infants, with prenatal non-smokers and among mothers who perceived they had a poor support structure.
This study indicates two factors which may be important in identifying families most at risk of negative parenting: younger maternal age at delivery and lack of social support during pregnancy. Such factors could be taken into account when planning provision of services such as parenting interventions. We also established that male children were significantly more likely to be negatively parented, a novel finding which may suggest an area for future research. However the findings have to be accepted cautiously and have to be replicated, as the measures used do not have established psychometric validity and reliability data.
PMCID: PMC4287514  PMID: 25280577
Parent-infant interactions; Positive parenting; Negative parenting; Mellow parenting system; ALSPAC
4.  Genome-wide association study identifies loci affecting blood copper, selenium and zinc 
Human Molecular Genetics  2013;22(19):3998-4006.
Genetic variation affecting absorption, distribution or excretion of essential trace elements may lead to health effects related to sub-clinical deficiency. We have tested for allelic effects of single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) on blood copper, selenium and zinc in a genome-wide association study using two adult cohorts from Australia and the UK. Participants were recruited in Australia from twins and their families and in the UK from pregnant women. We measured erythrocyte Cu, Se and Zn (Australian samples) or whole blood Se (UK samples) using inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry. Genotyping was performed with Illumina chips and >2.5 m SNPs were imputed from HapMap data. Genome-wide significant associations were found for each element. For Cu, there were two loci on chromosome 1 (most significant SNPs rs1175550, P = 5.03 × 10−10, and rs2769264, P = 2.63 × 10−20); for Se, a locus on chromosome 5 was significant in both cohorts (combined P = 9.40 × 10−28 at rs921943); and for Zn three loci on chromosomes 8, 15 and X showed significant results (rs1532423, P = 6.40 × 10−12; rs2120019, P = 1.55 × 10−18; and rs4826508, P = 1.40 × 10−12, respectively). The Se locus covers three genes involved in metabolism of sulphur-containing amino acids and potentially of the analogous Se compounds; the chromosome 8 locus for Zn contains multiple genes for the Zn-containing enzyme carbonic anhydrase. Where potentially relevant genes were identified, they relate to metabolism of the element (Se) or to the presence at high concentration of a metal-containing protein (Cu).
PMCID: PMC3766178  PMID: 23720494
5.  Prenatal exposure to binge pattern of alcohol consumption: mental health and learning outcomes at age 11 
The objective of the study is to investigate whether episodic binge pattern of alcohol consumption during pregnancy is independently associated with child mental health and academic outcomes. Using data from the prospective, population-based Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), we investigated the associations between binge patterns of alcohol consumption during pregnancy (≥4 drinks per day) and child mental health [as rated by both parent (n = 4,610) and teacher (n = 4,274)] and academic outcomes [based on examination results (n = 6,939)] at age 11 years. After adjusting for prenatal and postnatal risk factors, binge pattern of alcohol consumption (≥4 drinks in a day on at least one occasion) during pregnancy was associated with higher levels of mental health problems (especially hyperactivity/inattention) in girls at age 11 years, according to parental report. After disentangling binge-pattern and daily drinking, binge-pattern drinking was independently associated with teacher-rated hyperactivity/inattention and lower academic scores in both genders. Episodic drinking involving ≥4 drinks per day during pregnancy may increase risk for child mental health problems and lower academic attainment even if daily average levels of alcohol consumption are low. Episodic binge pattern of drinking appears to be a risk factor for these outcomes, especially hyperactivity and inattention problems, in the absence of daily drinking.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s00787-014-0599-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4186965  PMID: 25209690
Prenatal alcohol exposure; Fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; Academic achievement; Mental health problems; Hyperactivity
6.  Association between parent-infant interactions in infancy and disruptive behaviour disorders at age seven: a nested, case–control ALSPAC study 
BMC Pediatrics  2014;14(1):223.
Effective early intervention to prevent oppositional/conduct disorders requires early identification of children at risk. Patterns of parent-child interaction may predict oppositional/conduct disorders but large community-based prospective studies are needed to evaluate this possibility.
We sought to examine whether the Mellow Parenting Observational System (MPOS) used to assess parent-infant interactions at one year was associated with psychopathology at age 7. The MPOS assesses positive and negative interactions between parent and child. It examines six dimensions: anticipation of child’s needs, responsiveness, autonomy, cooperation, containment of child distress, and control/conflict; these are summed to produce measures of total positive and negative interactions. We examined videos from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) sub-cohort who attended the ‘Children in Focus’ clinic at one year of age. Our sample comprised 180 videos of parent-infant interaction: 60 from infants who received a psychiatric diagnostic categorisation at seven years and 120 randomly selected controls who were group-matched on sex.
A negative association between positive interactions and oppositional/conduct disorders was found. With the exception of pervasive developmental disorders (autism), an increase of one positive interaction per minute predicted a 15% (95% CI: 4% to 26%) reduction in the odds of the infant being case diagnosed. There was no statistically significant relationship between negative parenting interactions and oppositional/conduct disorders, although negative interactions were rarely observed in this setting.
The Mellow Parenting Observation System, specifically low scores for positive parenting interactions (such as Responsiveness which encompasses parental warmth towards the infant), predicted later psychiatric diagnostic categorisation of oppositional/conduct disorders.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/1471-2431-14-223) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.
PMCID: PMC4177234  PMID: 25193601
ALSPAC; Disruptive behaviour disorders; Parent-infant interactions; Mellow Parenting Observation System
7.  Prenatal Maternal Mood is Associated with Altered Diurnal Cortisol in Adolescence 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2013;38(9):1630-1638.
Experimental animal work shows that prenatal stress has a persisting effect on the Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal (HPA) axis of offspring. The implications of these findings for human health and development are not yet clear.
The data are based on the ALSPAC cohort, a prospective longitudinal study of a community sample that has followed mothers and children from pregnancy. When the children were aged 15 years, diurnal cortisol samples were collected at wake-up, 30 minutes post-awakening and at afternoon and evening times on up to three consecutive days on n=889 adolescents. Diurnal cortisol was predicted from prenatal anxiety and depression, obstetric, life-style, socio-demographic, and postnatal covariates.
Multilevel model analysis indicated that maternal prenatal anxiety was associated with a modest alteration of diurnal cortisol, indexed by a reduced cortisol awakening response and flatter diurnal slope. The effects were independent of psychosocial and obstetric covariates and measures of maternal postnatal anxiety; effects were similar for prenatal maternal depression. There was no association between adolescent cortisol and paternal prenatal anxiety.
There are small but persisting associations between maternal prenatal mood and diurnal cortisol in the child that persist into adolescence and may constitute a programming effect.
PMCID: PMC3695029  PMID: 23433748
prenatal anxiety; HPA axis; ALSPAC; cortisol; developmental programming
8.  Differences between blood donors and a population sample: implications for case–control studies 
Background Selecting appropriate controls for studies of genetic variation in case series is important. The two major candidates involve the use of blood donors or a random sample of the population.
Methods We compare and contrast the two different populations of controls for studies of genetic variation using data from parents enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). In addition we compute different biases using a series of hypothetical assumptions.
Results The study subjects who had been blood donors differed markedly from the general population in social, health-related, anthropometric, and personality-related variables. Using theoretical examples, we show that blood donors are a poor control group for non-genetic studies of diseases related to environmentally, behaviourally, or socially patterned exposures. However, we show that if blood donors are used as controls in genetic studies, these factors are unlikely to make a major difference in detecting true associations with relatively rare disorders (cumulative incidence through life of <10%). Nevertheless, for more common disorders, the reduction in accuracy resulting from the inclusion in any control population of individuals who have or will develop the disease in question can create a greater bias than can socially patterned factors.
Conclusions Information about the medical history of a control and the parents of the control (as a proxy for whether the control will develop the disease) is more important with regard to the choice of controls than whether the controls are a random population sample or blood donors.
PMCID: PMC3781001  PMID: 23825379
ALSPAC; blood donors; genetic studies; case-control studies; methodology
9.  Is the growth of the child of a smoking mother influenced by the father's prenatal exposure to tobacco? A hypothesis generating longitudinal study 
BMJ Open  2014;4(7):e005030.
Transgenerational effects of different environmental exposures are of major interest, with rodent experiments focusing on epigenetic mechanisms. Previously, we have shown that if the study mother is a non-smoker, there is increased mean birth weight, length and body mass index (BMI) in her sons if she herself had been exposed prenatally to her mother's smoking. The aim of this study was to determine whether the prenatal smoke exposure of either parent influenced the growth of the fetus of a smoking woman, and whether any effects were dependent on the fetal sex.
Population-based prebirth cohort study.
Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children.
Participants were residents of a geographic area with expected date of delivery between April 1991 and December 1992. Among pregnancies of mothers who smoked during pregnancy, data were available concerning maternal and paternal prenatal exposures to their own mother smoking for 3502 and 2354, respectively.
Primary and secondary outcome measures
Birth weight, length, BMI and head circumference.
After controlling for confounders, there were no associations with birth weight, length or BMI. There was a strong adjusted association of birth head circumference among boys whose fathers had been exposed prenatally (mean difference −0.35 cm; 95% CI −0.57 to −0.14; p=0.001). There was no such association with girls (interaction p=0.006). Similar associations were found when primiparae and multiparae were analysed separately. In order to determine whether this was reflected in child development, we examined the relationships with IQ; we found that the boys born to exposed fathers had lower IQ scores on average, and that this was particularly due to the verbal component (mean difference in verbal IQ −3.65 points; 95% CI −6.60 to −0.70).
Head size differences concerning paternal fetal exposure to smoking were unexpected and, as such, should be regarded as hypothesis generating.
PMCID: PMC4120379  PMID: 25015471
11.  Personality, Behavior and Environmental Features Associated with OXTR Genetic Variants in British Mothers 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(3):e90465.
It is assumed that the oxytocin receptor gene (OXTR) is associated with factors that are related to features of reproduction as well as the currently emerging fields of mood and emotional response.
We analysed data from over 8000 mothers who participated in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). We determined reproductive, emotional and personality differences related to the two SNPs rs53576 and rs2254298 of the oxytocin receptor gene to determine whether there was evidence in this population for: (i) associations with emotional and personality differences, and (ii) behavioural or environmental links with these SNPs using a hypothesis free approach with over 1000 types of exposure.
Our analyses of 7723 women showed that there were no differences in 11 mood, social or relationship characteristics associated with the rs2254298, and just one with rs53576 (with emotional loneliness) – one statistically significant out of 22 tests is no more than would be expected by chance. There were no interactions with childhood abuse. Using a hypothesis-free approach we found few indicators of environmental or behavioural differences associated with rs2254298, but there was an excess of associations with eating habits with rs53576. The findings included an association with dieting to lose weight, and habits typical of bulimia for the women with GG. The nutrition of the women also showed negative associations of the GG genotype with 13 nutrients, including vitamins D, B12 and retinol, and intake of calcium, potassium and iodine.
We conclude that this large database of pregnant women was unable to provide confirmation of the types of personality associated with these two OXTR SNPs, but we have shown some evidence of eating differences in those with GG on rs53576. Confirmation of our hypothesis free associations using other data sets is important.
PMCID: PMC3951216  PMID: 24621820
12.  Variability in the common genetic architecture of social-communication spectrum phenotypes during childhood and adolescence 
Molecular Autism  2014;5:18.
Social-communication abilities are heritable traits, and their impairments overlap with the autism continuum. To characterise the genetic architecture of social-communication difficulties developmentally and identify genetic links with the autistic dimension, we conducted a genome-wide screen of social-communication problems at multiple time-points during childhood and adolescence.
Social-communication difficulties were ascertained at ages 8, 11, 14 and 17 years in a UK population-based birth cohort (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children; N ≤ 5,628) using mother-reported Social Communication Disorder Checklist scores. Genome-wide Complex Trait Analysis (GCTA) was conducted for all phenotypes. The time-points with the highest GCTA heritability were subsequently analysed for single SNP association genome-wide. Type I error in the presence of measurement relatedness and the likelihood of observing SNP signals near known autism susceptibility loci (co-location) were assessed via large-scale, genome-wide permutations. Association signals (P ≤ 10−5) were also followed up in Autism Genetic Resource Exchange pedigrees (N = 793) and the Autism Case Control cohort (Ncases/Ncontrols = 1,204/6,491).
GCTA heritability was strongest in childhood (h2(8 years) = 0.24) and especially in later adolescence (h2(17 years) = 0.45), with a marked drop during early to middle adolescence (h2(11 years) = 0.16 and h2(14 years) = 0.08). Genome-wide screens at ages 8 and 17 years identified for the latter time-point evidence for association at 3p22.2 near SCN11A (rs4453791, P = 9.3 × 10−9; genome-wide empirical P = 0.011) and suggestive evidence at 20p12.3 at PLCB1 (rs3761168, P = 7.9 × 10−8; genome-wide empirical P = 0.085). None of these signals contributed to risk for autism. However, the co-location of population-based signals and autism susceptibility loci harbouring rare mutations, such as PLCB1, is unlikely to be due to chance (genome-wide empirical Pco-location = 0.007).
Our findings suggest that measurable common genetic effects for social-communication difficulties vary developmentally and that these changes may affect detectable overlaps with the autism spectrum.
PMCID: PMC3940728  PMID: 24564958
ALSPAC; ASD; Autism; GCTA heritability; GWAS; Social communication
13.  Is the Growth of the Fetus of a Non-Smoking Mother Influenced by the Smoking of Either Grandmother while Pregnant? 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e86781.
There are animal data that indicate that prenatal environmental exposures have sex-specific effects on subsequent generations. In humans, an increase in birthweight has been reported if the maternal grandmother had smoked in the pregnancy giving rise to the mother. Here we assess whether prenatal exposure of either parent to cigarette smoke has a sex-specific effect on the grandchild's birth measurements.
Information from 12707 maternal and 9677 paternal grandmothers of children in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) concerned whether they had smoked while expecting the study parent. Study children were weighed and measured at birth. Analyses to test effects of grandmaternal prenatal smoking used multiple regression allowing for several potential confounders; analyses were restricted to births to non-smoking study mothers.
After adjustment, the average birthweight, birth length and BMI measurements of the grandsons (but not granddaughters) were greater if the maternal grandmother smoked prenatally: birthweight  = +61 [95% CI +30, +92] g; birth length  = +0·19 [95% CI +0·02, +0·35] cm; BMI  = +1·6 [95% CI +0·6, +2·6] g/m2. Similar effects were seen in births to primiparae and multiparae. Additional allowance for maternal birthweight resulted in an average increase in boys to +100 g [95% CI +61, +140] g. There were no fetal growth differences if the paternal grandmother had smoked prenatally.
The evidence from this study suggests that when the mother does not smoke in pregnancy the maternal grandmother's smoking habit in pregnancy has a positive association with her grandson's fetal growth.
PMCID: PMC3913581  PMID: 24504157
14.  Glue Ear, Hearing Loss and IQ: An Association Moderated by the Child’s Home Environment 
PLoS ONE  2014;9(2):e87021.
Glue ear or otitis media with effusion (OME) is common in children and may be associated with hearing loss (HL). For most children it has no long lasting effects on cognitive development but it is unclear whether there are subgroups at higher risk of sequelae.
To examine the association between a score comprising the number of times a child had OME and HL (OME/HL score) in the first four/five years of life and IQ at age 4 and 8. To examine whether any association between OME/HL and IQ is moderated by socioeconomic, child or family factors.
Prospective, longitudinal cohort study: the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). 1155 children tested using tympanometry on up to nine occasions and hearing for speech (word recognition) on up to three occasions between age 8 months and 5 years. An OME/HL score was created and associations with IQ at ages 4 and 8 were examined. Potential moderators included a measure of the child’s cognitive stimulation at home (HOME score).
For the whole sample at age 4 the group with the highest 10% OME/HL scores had performance IQ 5 points lower [95% CI −9, −1] and verbal IQ 6 points lower [95% CI −10, −3] than the unaffected group. By age 8 the evidence for group differences was weak. There were significant interactions between OME/HL and the HOME score: those with high OME/HL scores and low 18 month HOME scores had lower IQ at age 4 and 8 than those with high OME/HL scores and high HOME scores. Adjusted mean differences ranged from 5 to 8 IQ points at age 4 and 8.
The cognitive development of children from homes with lower levels of cognitive stimulation is susceptible to the effects of glue ear and hearing loss.
PMCID: PMC3911938  PMID: 24498289
16.  Do Grandmaternal Smoking Patterns Influence the Etiology of Childhood Asthma? 
Chest  2013;145(6):1213-1218.
Animal data suggest that tobacco smoke exposure of a mother when she is in utero influences DNA methylation patterns in her offspring and that there is an effect on the respiratory system, particularly airway responsiveness. The only study, to our knowledge, in humans suggests that there is a similar effect on asthma. The present study tests whether an association with respiratory problems can be confirmed in a large population study and aims to determine whether in utero exposure of the father has similar effects on his offspring.
Information from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children was used to compare the offspring of women and of men who had themselves been exposed to cigarette smoke in utero; separate analyses were performed for children of women smokers and nonsmokers. The outcome measures were trajectories of history of early wheezing, doctor-diagnosed asthma by age 7 years, and results of lung function and methacholine challenge tests at 8 years. A variety of social and environmental factors were taken into account; offspring sexes were examined separately.
There was no association with any outcome in relation to maternal prenatal exposure. There was some evidence of an increase in asthma risk with paternal prenatal exposure when the study mother was a nonsmoker (adjusted OR, 1.17; 95% CI, 0.97-1.41). This was particularly strong for girls (adjusted OR, 1.39; 95% CI, 1.04-1.86).
We did not find that maternal prenatal exposure to her mother’s smoking had any effect on her children’s respiratory outcomes. There was suggestive evidence of paternal prenatal exposure being associated with asthma and persistent wheezing in the granddaughters.
PMCID: PMC4042509  PMID: 24158349
17.  Effect of Prenatal Alcohol Exposure on Childhood Academic Outcomes: Contrasting Maternal and Paternal Associations in the ALSPAC Study 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(10):e74844.
The impact of low-to-moderate levels of alcohol consumption during pregnancy on child cognitive outcomes has been of recent concern. This study has tested the hypothesis that low-to-moderate maternal alcohol use in pregnancy is associated with lower school test scores at age 11 in the offspring via intrauterine mechanisms.
We used data from the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC), a birth cohort study based in the South West of England. Analyses were conducted on 7062 participants who had complete data on: maternal and paternal patterns of alcohol use in the first trimester and at 18 weeks' gestation, child's academic outcomes measured at age 11, gender, maternal age, parity, marital status, ethnicity, household crowding, home ownership status and parental education. We contrasted the association of mother's alcohol consumption during pregnancy with child's National Curriculum Key Stage 2 (KS2) test scores with the association for father's alcohol consumption (during the time the mother was pregnant) with child's National Curriculum Key Stage 2 (KS2) test scores. We used multivariate linear regression to estimate mean differences and 95% confidence intervals [CI] in KS2 scores across the exposure categories and computed f statistics to compare maternal and paternal associations.
Findings and conclusions
Drinking up to 1 unit of alcohol a day during pregnancy was not associated with lower test scores. However, frequent prenatal consumption of 4 units (equivalent to 32 grams of alcohol) on each single drinking occasion was associated with reduced educational attainment [Mean change in offspring KS2 score was −0.68 (−1.03, −0.33) for maternal alcohol categories compared to 0.27 (0.07, 0.46) for paternal alcohol categories]. Frequent consumption of 4 units of alcohol during pregnancy may adversely affect childhood academic outcomes via intrauterine mechanisms.
PMCID: PMC3794033  PMID: 24130672
18.  Dietary Predictors of Maternal Prenatal Blood Mercury Levels in the ALSPAC Birth Cohort Study 
Environmental Health Perspectives  2013;121(10):1214-1218.
Background: Very high levels of prenatal maternal mercury have adverse effects on the developing fetal brain. It has been suggested that all possible sources of mercury should be avoided. However, although seafood is a known source of mercury, little is known about other dietary components that contribute to the overall levels of blood mercury.
Objective: Our goal was to quantify the contribution of components of maternal diet to prenatal blood mercury level.
Methods: Whole blood samples and information on diet and sociodemographic factors were collected from pregnant women (n = 4,484) enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC). The blood samples were assayed for total mercury using inductively coupled plasma dynamic reaction cell mass spectrometry. Linear regression was used to estimate the relative contributions of 103 dietary variables and 6 sociodemographic characteristics to whole blood total mercury levels (TBM; untransformed and log-transformed) based on R2 values.
Results: We estimated that maternal diet accounted for 19.8% of the total variation in ln-TBM, with 44% of diet-associated variability (8.75% of the total variation) associated with seafood consumption (white fish, oily fish, and shellfish). Other dietary components positively associated with TBM included wine and herbal teas, and components with significant negative associations included white bread, meat pies or pasties, and french fries.
Conclusions: Although seafood is a source of dietary mercury, seafood appeared to explain a relatively small proportion of the variation in TBM in our UK study population. Our findings require confirmation, but suggest that limiting seafood intake during pregnancy may have a limited impact on prenatal blood mercury levels.
Citation: Golding J, Steer CD, Hibbeln JR, Emmett PM, Lowery T, Jones R. 2013. Dietary predictors of maternal prenatal blood mercury levels in the ALSPAC birth cohort study. Environ Health Perspect 121:1214–1218;
PMCID: PMC3801454  PMID: 23811414
19.  Prenatal alcohol exposure and offspring cognition and school performance. A ‘Mendelian randomization’ natural experiment 
Background There is substantial debate as to whether moderate alcohol use during pregnancy could have subtle but important effects on offspring, by impairing later cognitive function and thus school performance. The authors aimed to investigate the unconfounded effect of moderately increased prenatal alcohol exposure on cognitive/educational performance.
Methods We used mother-offspring pairs participating in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) and performed both conventional observational analyses and Mendelian randomization using an ADH1B variant (rs1229984) associated with reduced alcohol consumption. Women of White European origin with genotype and self-reported prenatal alcohol consumption, whose offspring’s IQ score had been assessed in clinic (N = 4061 pairs) or Key Stage 2 (KS2) academic achievement score was available through linkage to the National Pupil Database (N = 6268), contributed to the analyses.
Results Women reporting moderate drinking before and during early pregnancy were relatively affluent compared with women reporting lighter drinking, and their children had higher KS2 and IQ scores. In contrast, children whose mothers’ genotype predisposes to lower consumption or abstinence during early pregnancy had higher KS2 scores (mean difference +1.7, 95% confidence interval +0.4, +3.0) than children of mothers whose genotype predisposed to heavier drinking, after adjustment for population stratification.
Conclusions Better offspring cognitive/educational outcomes observed in association with prenatal alcohol exposure presumably reflected residual confounding by factors associated with social position and maternal education. The unconfounded Mendelian randomization estimates suggest a small but potentially important detrimental effect of small increases in prenatal alcohol exposure, at least on educational outcomes.
PMCID: PMC3807618  PMID: 24065783
Alcohol dehydrogenase; causality; cognition; confounding factors; educational measurement; ethanol; Mendelian randomization analysis; pregnancy
20.  Prediction of 7-year psychopathology from mother-infant joint attention behaviours: a nested case–control study 
BMC Pediatrics  2013;13:147.
To investigate whether later diagnosis of psychiatric disorder can be predicted from analysis of mother-infant joint attention (JA) behaviours in social-communicative interaction at 12 months.
Using data from a large contemporary birth cohort, we examined 159 videos of a mother-infant interaction for joint attention behaviour when children were aged one year, sampled from within the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) cohort. Fifty-three of the videos involved infants who were later considered to have a psychiatric disorder at seven years and 106 were same aged controls. Psychopathologies included in the case group were disruptive behaviour disorders, oppositional-conduct disorder, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, pervasive development disorder, anxiety and depressive disorders. Psychiatric diagnoses were obtained using the Development and Wellbeing Assessment when the children were seven years old.
None of the three JA behaviours (shared look rate, shared attention rate and shared attention intensity) showed a significant association with the primary outcome of case–control status. Only shared look rate predicted any of the exploratory sub-diagnosis outcomes and was found to be positively associated with later oppositional-conduct disorders (OR [95% CI]: 1.5 [1.0, 2.3]; p = 0.041).
JA behaviours did not, in general, predict later psychopathology. However, shared look was positively associated with later oppositional-conduct disorders. This suggests that some features of JA may be early markers of later psychopathology. Further investigation will be required to determine whether any JA behaviours can be used to screen for families in need of intervention.
PMCID: PMC3848970  PMID: 24063312
Avon longitudinal study of parents and children (ALSPAC), Autism, Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), Disruptive behaviour disorders, Joint attention behaviours
21.  Common variation contributes to the genetic architecture of social communication traits 
Molecular Autism  2013;4:34.
Social communication difficulties represent an autistic trait that is highly heritable and persistent during the course of development. However, little is known about the underlying genetic architecture of this phenotype.
We performed a genome-wide association study on parent-reported social communication problems using items of the children’s communication checklist (age 10 to 11 years) studying single and/or joint marker effects. Analyses were conducted in a large UK population-based birth cohort (Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and their Children, ALSPAC, N = 5,584) and followed-up within a sample of children with comparable measures from Western Australia (RAINE, N = 1364).
Two of our seven independent top signals (P-discovery <1.0E-05) were replicated (0.009
Single-variant findings were complemented by estimations of the narrow-sense heritability in ALSPAC suggesting that approximately a fifth of the phenotypic variance in social communication traits is accounted for by joint additive effects of genotyped single nucleotide polymorphisms throughout the genome (h2(SE) = 0.18(0.066), P = 0.0027).
Overall, our study provides both joint and single-SNP-based evidence for the contribution of common polymorphisms to variation in social communication phenotypes.
PMCID: PMC3853437  PMID: 24047820
ALSPAC; RAINE; Autistic trait; GWAS; Social communication; Association
PLoS ONE  2013;8(9):e72371.
Lead is a widespread environmental toxin. The behaviour and academic performance of children can be adversely affected even at low blood lead levels (BLL) of 5–10 µg/dl. An important contribution to the infant's lead load is provided by maternal transfer during pregnancy.
Our aim was to determine BLL in a large cohort of pregnant women in the UK and to identify the factors that contribute to BLL in pregnant women.
Pregnant women resident in the Avon area of the UK were enrolled in the Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) in 1991–1992. Whole blood samples were collected at median gestational age of 11 weeks and analysed by inductively coupled plasma dynamic reaction cell mass spectrometry (n = 4285). Self-completion postal questionnaires were used to collect data during pregnancy on lifestyle, diet and other environmental exposures. Statistical analysis was carried out with SPSS v19.
The mean±SD BLL was 3.67±1.47 (median 3.41, range 0.41–19.14) µg/dl. Higher educational qualification was found to be one of the strongest independent predictor of BLL in an adjusted backwards stepwise logistic regression to predict maternal BLL <5 or ≥5 µg/dl (odds ratio 1.26, 95% confidence interval 1.12–1.42; p<0.001). Other predictive factors included cigarette smoking, alcohol and coffee drinking, and heating the home with a coal fire, with some evidence for iron and calcium intake having protective effects.
The mean BLL in this group of pregnant women is higher than has been found in similar populations in developed countries. The finding that high education attainment was independently associated with higher BLL was unexpected and currently unexplained. Reduction in maternal lead levels can best be undertaken by reducing intake of the social drugs cigarettes, alcohol and caffeine, although further investigation of the effect of calcium on lead levels is needed.
PMCID: PMC3764234  PMID: 24039753
PLoS ONE  2013;8(7):e67671.
Little is known about relationships between dietary patterns, n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) intake and excessive anxiety during pregnancy.
To examine whether dietary patterns and n-3 PUFA intake from seafood are associated with high levels of anxiety during pregnancy.
Pregnant women enrolled from 1991–1992 in ALSPAC (n 9,530). Dietary patterns were established from a food frequency questionnaire using principal component analysis. Total intake of n-3 PUFA (grams/week) from seafood was also examined. Symptoms of anxiety were measured at 32 weeks of gestation with the Crown-Crisp Experiential Index; scores ≥9 corresponding to the 85th percentile was defined as high anxiety symptoms. Multivariate logistic regression models were used to estimate the OR and 95% CI, adjusted by socioeconomic and lifestyle variables.
Multivariate results showed that women in the highest tertile of the health-conscious (OR 0.77; 0.65–0.93) and the traditional (OR 0.84; 0.73–0.97) pattern scores were less likely to report high levels of anxiety symptoms. Women in the highest tertile of the vegetarian pattern score (OR 1.25; 1.08–1.44) were more likely to have high levels of anxiety, as well as those with no n-3 PUFA intake from seafood (OR 1.53; 1.25–1.87) when compared with those with intake of >1.5 grams/week.
The present study provides evidence of a relationship between dietary patterns, fish intake or n-3 PUFA intake from seafood and symptoms of anxiety in pregnancy, and suggests that dietary interventions could be used to reduce high anxiety symptoms during pregnancy.
PMCID: PMC3710017  PMID: 23874437
Ear wax type and axillary odor are genetically determined by rs17822931, a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) located in the ABCC11 gene. The literature has been concerned with the Mendelian trait of earwax, although axillary odor is also Mendelian. Ethnic diversity in rs17822931 exists, with higher frequency of allele A in East Asians. Influence on deodorant usage has not been investigated. In this work we present a detailed analysis of the rs17822931 effect on deodorant usage in a large (N~17,000 individuals) population cohort (The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children, ALSPAC). We found strong evidence (P=3.7×10−20) indicating differential deodorant usage according to rs17822931 genotype. AA homozygotes were almost 5-fold over-represented in categories of never using deodorant or using it infrequently. However, 77.8% of white European genotypically non-odorous individuals still used deodorant, and 4.7% genotypically odorous individuals did not. We provide evidence previously unreported of a behavioural effect associated with rs17822931. This effect has a biological basis which can result in a change in the family’s environment if an aerosol deodorant is used. It also indicates potential cost saving to the non-odorous and scope for personalised genetics usage in personal hygiene choices, with consequent reduction of inappropriate chemical exposures for some.
PMCID: PMC3674910  PMID: 23325016
ABCC11 gene; deodorant usage; axillary odor; personalised genetics
Human Molecular Genetics  2011;21(7):1504-1512.
Minor alleles of polymorphisms in the fatty acid desaturase (FADS) gene cluster have been associated with reduced desaturation of the precursor polyunsaturated fatty acids (FAs) in small studies. The effects of these polymorphisms during progressive developmental stages have not previously been reported. Data from blood samples for 4342 pregnant women, 3343 umbilical cords reflecting the newborn's blood supply and 5240 children aged 7 years were analysed to investigate the associations of polyunsaturated FAs with rs1535 and rs174575—two polymorphisms in the FADS2 gene. Strong positive associations were observed between the minor G allele for these two markers, especially rs1535, and the substrates linoleic (18:2n-6) and α-linolenic (18:3n-3) acid. Negative associations were observed for the more highly unsaturated FAs such as arachidonic acid (20:4n-6), timnodonic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3) and cervonic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3). Bivariable genetic associations using the mother and child genotypes suggested that the newborn metabolism had a greater capacity to synthesize the more highly unsaturated omega-6 FAs than the more highly unsaturated omega-3 FAs. Nevertheless, despite the immaturity of the neonate, there was evidence that synthesis of DHA was occurring. However, by 7 years, no associations were observed with the maternal genotype. This suggested that the children's FA levels were related only to their own metabolism with no apparent lasting influences of the in utero environment.
PMCID: PMC3465695  PMID: 22194195

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