Effects of in utero exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and related contaminants on cognitive functioning in young children

J Pediatr. 1990 Jan;116(1):38-45. doi: 10.1016/s0022-3476(05)81642-7.


Because prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and related contaminants has been associated with reduced birth weight, neonatal behavioral anomalies, and poorer recognition memory in infants born to women who have consumed Lake Michigan sports fish, 236 children, previously evaluated for PCB-related deficits in infancy, were assessed at 4 years of age. Prenatal exposure (indicated by umbilical cord serum PCB level) predicted poorer short-term memory function on both verbal and quantitative tests in a dose-dependent fashion. These effects cannot be attributed to a broad range of potential confounding variables, the impact of which was evaluated statistically. Although much larger quantities of PCBs are transferred postnatally via lactation than prenatally across the placenta, exposure from nursing was unrelated to cognitive performance. The data demonstrate the continuation of a toxic impact received in utero and observed initially during infancy on a dimension of cognitive functioning fundamental to learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Body Burden
  • Breast Feeding
  • Cognition / drug effects*
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / analysis
  • Fishes
  • Food Contamination* / analysis
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Memory / drug effects
  • Michigan
  • Milk, Human / analysis
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / analysis
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / poisoning*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*


  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls