Associations between Prenatal Exposure to Black Carbon and Memory Domains in Urban Children: Modification by Sex and Prenatal Stress

Cowell, Whitney J.; Bellinger, David C.; Coull, Brent A.; Gennings, Chris; Wright, Robert O.; Wright, Rosalind J.

Whether fetal neurodevelopment is disrupted by traffic-related air pollution is uncertain. Animal studies suggest that chemical and non-chemical stressors interact to impact neurodevelopment, and that this association is further modified by sex.
To examine associations between prenatal traffic-related black carbon exposure, prenatal stress, and sex with children’s memory and learning.
Analyses included N = 258 mother-child dyads enrolled in a Boston, Massachusetts pregnancy cohort. Black carbon exposure was estimated using a validated spatiotemporal land-use regression model. Prenatal stress was measured using the Crisis in Family Systems-Revised survey of negative life events. The Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning (WRAML2) was administered at age 6 years; outcomes included the General Memory Index and its component indices [Verbal, Visual, and Attention Concentration]. Relationships between black carbon and WRAML2 index scores were examined using multivariable-adjusted linear regression including effect modification by stress and sex.
Mothers were primarily minorities (60% Hispanic, 26% Black); 67% had ≤12 years of education. The main effect for black carbon was not significant for any WRAML2 index; however, in stratified analyses, among boys with high exposure to prenatal stress, Attention Concentration Index scores were on average 9.5 points lower for those with high compared to low prenatal black carbon exposure (P3-way interaction = 0.04).
The associations between prenatal exposure to black carbon and stress with children’s memory scores were stronger in boys than in girls. Studies assessing complex interactions may more fully characterize health risks and, in particular, identify vulnerable subgroups.


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Environmental Health Sciences
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February 24, 2016