Analysis of PCB congeners related to cognitive functioning in adolescents

Neurotoxicology. 2009 Jul;30(4):686-96. doi: 10.1016/j.neuro.2009.05.006. Epub 2009 May 22.


To investigate the characteristics of PCBs that are linked to cognitive functioning, those congeners that were concurrently found in 271 Mohawk adolescents were grouped according to structure (dioxin-like or non-dioxin-like) and persistence (persistent or low-persistent). After the effects of the congener groups were orthogonalized, regression analyses (controlling for a number of variables found to be related to the cognitive outcomes) examined the relationship of each congener group to scores on three cognitive tests (the non-verbal Ravens Progressive Matrices, the Test of Memory and Learning, and the Woodcock Johnson-Revised). Five subtests from these cognitive tests were found to be associated with one or more PCB congener groups, most often at a moderate level. Two measures of long-term memory (Delayed Recall and Long Term Retrieval) were associated with all four congener groups. Nevertheless, examination of the role of individual congeners in the significantly related congener groups revealed that almost all congeners associated with cognitive outcomes were non-dioxin-like and ortho-substituted. A notable exception was the Ravens test where scores were associated only with dioxin-like congeners. This finding adds to the limited evidence of neurotoxic effects of dioxin-like congeners. Auditory Processing was related only to the persistent congener group. The association of the non-persistent congener group with three cognitive test scores (Delayed Recall, Long Term Retrieval and Comprehension-Knowledge) suggests that the Mohawk adolescents have experienced continuing or recent environmental exposure to PCBs that is sufficient to result in detectable cognitive decrements. Comparison of our findings with those of other human studies was limited by the relative lack of specificity of both PCB measures and cognitive outcome measures in much previous work.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Development / drug effects*
  • Child
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Indians, North American
  • Male
  • Mother-Child Relations
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / adverse effects*
  • Regression Analysis
  • Retrospective Studies


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls