Levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in maternal serum and risk of neural tube defects in offspring

Environ Sci Technol. 2015 Jan 6;49(1):588-96. doi: 10.1021/es503990v. Epub 2014 Dec 23.


Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are ubiquitous environmental pollutants, and have been reported to be a risk factor for human neural tube defects (NTDs). We investigated the relationship between PAH concentrations in maternal serum and NTD risk in offspring using a case-control study design, and explored the link between PAH concentrations to household energy usage characteristics and life styles. One hundred and seventeen women who had NTD-affected pregnancies (cases) and 121 women who delivered healthy infants (controls) were recruited in Northern China. Maternal blood samples were collected at pregnancy termination or at delivery. Twenty-seven PAHs were measured by gas chromatography-mass spectrometry. The concentrations of 13 individual PAHs detected were significantly higher in the cases than in the controls. Clear dose-response relationships between concentrations of most individual PAHs and the risk of total NTDs or subtypes were observed, even when potential covariates were adjusted for. High-molecular-weight PAHs (H-PAHs) showed higher risk than low-molecular-weight PAHs (L-PAHs). No associations between PAH concentrations and indoor life styles and energy usage characteristics were observed. It was concluded that maternal exposure to PAHs was associated with an increased risk of NTDs, and H-PAHs overall posed a higher risk for NTDs than L-PAHs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Case-Control Studies
  • China
  • Environmental Pollutants / blood
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Life Style
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects
  • Neural Tube Defects / blood*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / blood*
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons