Polychlorinated biphenyls, organochlorine pesticides and neurodevelopment

Curr Opin Pediatr. 2008 Apr;20(2):198-204. doi: 10.1097/MOP.0b013e3282f6a4e9.


Purpose of review: Although environmental levels of polychlorinated biphenyls and certain organochlorine pesticides--hexachlorobenzene, dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane and its primary metabolite, dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene--are generally on the decline, early-life exposures to these prevalent contaminants continue. The review will describe current understanding of the potential neurodevelopmental consequences of low-level exposures to these contaminants.

Recent findings: Animal models suggest that early-life exposures to polychlorinated biphenyls, dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane/dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene or hexachlorobenzene are associated with decreased cognitive or behavioral function in later development. Despite almost 30 years of research, however, results of human studies are inconsistent regarding the nature of the observed effects and their persistence over time. Overall, epidemiologic studies support modest associations of primarily prenatal polychlorinated biphenyl exposures with differences in neuromotor development, decrements in cognition and behavioral deficits, particularly regarding attention and impulse control. There are limited published human data regarding potential neurodevelopmental toxicities of early-life exposures to dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane/dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene and hexachlorobenzene.

Summary: Exposures to polychlorinated biphenyls, dichlorodiphenyl trichloroethane/dichlorodiphenyl dichloroethene and hexachlorobenzene are likely detrimental to neurodevelopment. Effective control of exposure is complicated by variable exposure sources and variable contaminant levels in food, particularly fish, for which it is important to balance the risk of contaminants with nutritional benefits.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Child Behavior Disorders / chemically induced*
  • Child Behavior Disorders / diagnosis
  • Cohort Studies
  • Developmental Disabilities / chemically induced*
  • Developmental Disabilities / diagnosis
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity
  • Female
  • Hexachlorobenzene / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects
  • Prospective Studies


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Pesticides
  • Hexachlorobenzene
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls