Background: Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) have been widely used as flame retardants in consumer products. PBDEs may affect thyroid hormone homeostasis, which can result in irreversible damage of cognitive performance, motor skills and altered behaviour. Thus, in utero exposure is of very high concern due to critical windows in fetal development.
Methods: A human ex vivo placenta perfusion system was used to study the kinetics and extent of the placental transfer of BDE-47, BDE-99 and BDE-209 during four-hour perfusions. The PBDEs were added to the maternal circulation and monitored in the maternal and fetal compartments. In addition, the perfused cotyledon, the surrounding placental tissue as well as pre-perfusion placental tissue and umbilical cord plasma were also analysed. The PBDE analysis included Soxhlet extraction, clean-up by adsorption chromatography and GC-MS analysis.
Results and discussion: Placental transfer of BDE-47 was faster and more extensive than for BDE-99. The fetal-maternal ratios (FM-ratio) after four hours of perfusion were 0.47 and 0.25 for BDE-47 and BDE-99, respectively, while the indicative permeability coefficient (IPC) measured after 60 minutes of perfusion was 0.26 h-1 and 0.10 h-1, respectively. The transport of BDE-209 seemed to be limited. These differences between the congeners may be related to the degree of bromination. Significant accumulation was observed for all congeners in the perfused cotyledon as well as in the surrounding placental tissue.
Conclusion: The transport of BDE-47 and BDE-99 indicates in utero exposure to these congeners. Although the transport of BDE-209 was limited, however, possible metabolic debromination may lead to products which are both more toxic and transportable. Our study demonstrates fetal exposure to PBDEs, which should be included in risk assessment of PBDE exposure of women of child-bearing age.