Background: Endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) may be involved in the etiology of autism spectrum disorders, but identifying relevant chemicals within mixtures of EDCs is difficult.
Objective: Our goal was to identify gestational EDC exposures associated with autistic behaviors.
Methods: We measured the concentrations of 8 phthalate metabolites, bisphenol A, 25 polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), 6 organochlorine pesticides, 8 brominated flame retardants, and 4 perfluoroalkyl substances in blood or urine samples from 175 pregnant women in the HOME (Health Outcomes and Measures of the Environment) Study (Cincinnati, OH). When children were 4 and 5 years old, mothers completed the Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS), a measure of autistic behaviors. We examined confounder-adjusted associations between 52 EDCs and SRS scores using a two-stage hierarchical analysis to account for repeated measures and confounding by correlated EDCs.
Results: Most of the EDCs were associated with negligible absolute differences in SRS scores (≤ 1.5). Each 2-SD increase in serum concentrations of polybrominated diphenyl ether-28 (PBDE-28) (β = 2.5; 95% CI: -0.6, 5.6) or trans-nonachlor (β = 4.1; 95% CI: 0.8-7.3) was associated with more autistic behaviors. In contrast, fewer autistic behaviors were observed among children born to women with detectable versus nondetectable concentrations of PCB-178 (β = -3.0; 95% CI: -6.3, 0.2), β-hexachlorocyclohexane (β = -3.3; 95% CI: -6.1, -0.5), or PBDE-85 (β = -3.2; 95% CI: -5.9, -0.5). Increasing perfluorooctanoate (PFOA) concentrations were also associated with fewer autistic behaviors (β = -2.0; 95% CI: -4.4, 0.4).
Conclusions: Some EDCs were associated with autistic behaviors in this cohort, but our modest sample size precludes us from dismissing chemicals with null associations. PFOA, β-hexachlorocyclohexane, PCB-178, PBDE-28, PBDE-85, and trans-nonachlor deserve additional scrutiny as factors that may be associated with childhood autistic behaviors.