EDCs exposure linked to altered gene function in pregnant women’s placentas

Chemicals may alter placenta genes, threaten fetuses

image of a Spritz-of-Perfume
Researchers link endocrine disrupting chemical exposure to altered gene function in pregnant women’s placentas, which could hamper fetal growth. A Spritz of Perfume image by Jennuine Captures Photography.

Women exposed to widely used chemicals while pregnant are more likely to have altered gene function in their placentas, according to a new study.

2015 Study Abstract

There is increasing concern that early-life exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) can influence the risk of disease development. Phthalates and phenols are two classes of suspected EDCs that are used in a variety of everyday consumer products, including plastics, epoxy resins, and cosmetics. In utero exposure to EDCs may impact disease propensity through epigenetic mechanisms.

The objective of this study was to determine if prenatal exposure to multiple EDCs is associated with changes in miRNA expression of human placenta, and if miRNA alterations are associated with birth outcomes.

Our study was restricted to a total of 179 women co-enrolled in the Harvard Epigenetic Birth Cohort and the Predictors of Preeclampsia Study. We analyzed associations between first-trimester urine concentrations of 8 phenols and 11 phthalate metabolites and expression of 29 candidate miRNAs in placenta by qRT-PCR.

For three miRNAs, miR-142-3p, miR15a-5p, and miR-185, we detected associations between ∑phthalates or ∑phenols on expression levels (p<0.05). By assessing gene ontology enrichment, we determined the potential mRNA targets of these microRNAs predicted in silico were associated with several biological pathways, including the regulation of protein serine/threonine kinase activity. Four gene ontology biological processes were enriched among genes significantly correlated with the expression of miRNAs associated with EDC burden.

Overall, these results suggest that prenatal phenol and phthalate exposure is associated with altered miRNA expression in placenta, suggesting a potential mechanism of EDC toxicity in humans.

Sources and more information
  • First-Trimester Urine Concentrations of Phthalate Metabolites and Phenols and Placenta miRNA Expression in a Cohort of U.S. Women, Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1408409, 19 June 2015.
  • Chemicals may alter placenta genes, threaten fetuses, Environmental Health News, July 1, 2015.

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