Air pollutant effects on fetal and early postnatal development

Birth Defects Res C Embryo Today. 2007 Sep;81(3):144-54. doi: 10.1002/bdrc.20097.


Numerical research on the health effects of air pollution has been published in the last decade. Epidemiological studies have shown that children's exposure to air pollutants during fetal development and early postnatal life is associated with many types of health problems including abnormal development (low birth weight [LBW], very low birth weight [VLBW], preterm birth [PTB], intrauterine growth restriction [IUGR], congenital defects, and intrauterine and infant mortality), decreased lung growth, increased rates of respiratory tract infections, childhood asthma, behavioral problems, and neurocognitive decrements. This review focuses on the health effects of major outdoor air pollutants including particulates, carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur and nitrogen oxides (SO(2), NOx), ozone, and one common indoor air pollutant, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Animal data is presented that demonstrate perinatal windows of susceptibility to sidestream smoke, a surrogate for ETS, resulting in altered airway sensitivity and cell type frequency. A study of neonatal monkeys exposed to sidestream smoke during the perinatal period and/or early postnatal period that resulted in an altered balance of Th1-/Th2-cytokine secretion, skewing the immune response toward the allergy-associated Th2 cytokine phenotype, is also discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution, Indoor / adverse effects
  • Allergens / adverse effects
  • Animals
  • Carbon Monoxide / adverse effects
  • Child
  • Child Development / drug effects*
  • Congenital Abnormalities / epidemiology
  • Congenital Abnormalities / etiology
  • Humans
  • Hypersensitivity / epidemiology
  • Hypersensitivity / immunology
  • Infant
  • Nitrogen Dioxide / adverse effects
  • Ozone / adverse effects
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / epidemiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / etiology
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / immunology
  • Sudden Infant Death / etiology
  • Sulfur Dioxide / adverse effects
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution / adverse effects


  • Air Pollutants
  • Allergens
  • Tobacco Smoke Pollution
  • Sulfur Dioxide
  • Ozone
  • Carbon Monoxide
  • Nitrogen Dioxide