Biomonitoring and biomarkers to unravel the risks from prenatal environmental exposures for later health outcomes

Greet E R Schoeters, Elly Den Hond, Gudrun Koppen, Roel Smolders, Karolien Bloemen, Patrick De Boever, Eva Govarts
American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011, 94 (6): 1964S-1969S
An increasing number of studies have addressed the concern that environmental pollutants may contribute to the early origin of diseases. Epidemiologic studies suggest that prenatal exposure to air pollutants, several food contaminants, and chemicals present in consumer products are associated with nongenetically transmitted adverse health effects, which manifest after birth. Changes in neurobehavior, sexual development, the prevalence of asthma and allergy, and growth curves have been shown to be associated with pollutant exposure at early life stages. This review focuses on human molecular epidemiologic studies that contribute knowledge by introducing biomarker measurements to obtain a mechanistic understanding of the relation between early life exposures and health outcome. It has been hypothesized that subtle effects induced by pollutant exposure during development can lead to functional deficits and altered programming, which leads to increased disease or dysfunction risk later in life. Biomarker analysis may provide sensitive tools to trace these subtle changes and obtain mechanistic insight about the causal pathway between external exposure and health effects in human population studies. Biomarkers of exposure can be measured in mothers before conception, during pregnancy, or after birth. Different biological tissues-such as peripheral or cord blood samples, hair samples, meconium, and urine-provide specific information that reflects the actual dose during pregnancy or at birth. Biomarkers of effect may include changes in hormone concentrations, oxidative stress variables, changes in gene expression levels, and epigenetic changes.

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