Agricultural and residential use of organophosphate (OP) pesticides has increased in recent decades after banning some persistent pesticides. Although there is evidence of the effects of OPs on neurodevelopment and behaviour in adults, limited information is available about their effects in children, who might be more vulnerable to neurotoxic compounds. This paper was aimed at analysing the scientific evidence published to date on potential neurodevelopmental and behavioural effects of prenatal and postnatal exposure to OPs. A systematic review was undertaken to identify original articles published up to December 2012 evaluating prenatal or postnatal exposure to OPs in children and effects on neurodevelopment and/or behaviour. Articles were critically compared, focusing on the methodology used to assess exposure and adverse effects, as well as potential contributing factors that may modify both exposure and outcomes, such as genetic susceptibility to certain enzymes involved in OPs metabolisation (e.g. paraoxonase-1) and gender differences. Twenty articles met the inclusion criteria, 7 of which evaluated prenatal exposure to OPs, 8 postnatal exposure and 5 both pre- and postnatal exposure. Most of the studies evaluating prenatal exposure observed a negative effect on mental development and an increase in attention problems in preschool and school children. The evidence on postnatal exposure is less consistent, although 2 studies found an increase in reaction time in schoolchildren. Some paraoxonase-1 polymorphisms could enhance the association between OPs exposure and mental and psychomotor development. A large variability in epidemiological designs and methodologies used for assessing exposure and outcome was observed across the different studies, which made comparisons difficult. Prenatal and to a lesser extent postnatal exposure to OPs may contribute to neurodevelopmental and behavioural deficits in preschool and school children. Standardised methodologies are needed to allow results to be better compared and to perform a quantitative meta-analysis before drawing any final conclusions.
Keywords: Neurodevelopment; Organophosphorus pesticides; Postnatal exposure; Prenatal exposure.
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