Outdoor air pollution exposures and micronuclei frequencies in lymphocytes from pregnant women and newborns in Crete, Greece (Rhea cohort)

Environ Res. 2015 Nov;143(Pt A):170-6. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2015.10.011. Epub 2015 Oct 21.


Background: Micronuclei (MN) are biomarkers of early genetic effects that have been used to investigate the association between environmental exposures and cancer. However, few studies have examined the association between environmental exposures during pregnancy and MN in mothers and newborns.

Objectives: We examined MN frequency in maternal blood and in cord blood, in relation to maternal air pollution exposure, and the potential interaction with maternal vitamin C intake and maternal smoking.

Methods: We used the cytokinesis-block micronucleus assay to assess MN frequency per 1000 bi-nucleated T-lymphocytes from 181 mothers and 183 newborns born in 2007-2008 in Heraklion (Crete, Greece). The ESCAPE land-use regression methods were used to estimate annual mean exposure to outdoor air pollution [particulate matter (PM), black carbon, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx)] at maternal home addresses. Food frequency questionnaires were used to estimate maternal dietary vitamin C intake during pregnancy. Smoking habits were self-reported using questionnaires which were checked by measuring maternal urinary cotinine levels.

Results: Exposure to PM2.5 was associated with increased MN frequencies in pregnant women [rate ratio [RR (95%CI)] per 5 µg/m(3)=1.53 (1.02, 2.29)]. This increase was considerably higher among women who did not fulfill the recommended vitamin C dietary allowances [RR=9.35 (2.77, 31.61); n=20]. Exposure to PM2.5-10, PM10, NO2 and NOx were also associated with a higher incidence of MN frequencies in smoker women (n=56). No associations were found for newborns.

Conclusions: We found an association between air pollution, particularly PM2.5, and MN frequency in mothers but not in newborns. This association was more pronounced among women with a lower dietary intake of vitamin C during pregnancy and among women who smoked during pregnancy. While results are clear in mothers, the association between maternal carcinogenic exposures during pregnancy and biomarkers of early biologic effect in the newborn remains poorly understood.

Keywords: Air pollution; Micronucleus assay; Mother–child cohorts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Ascorbic Acid / administration & dosage
  • Ascorbic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Fetal Blood / cytology
  • Greece / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • Lymphocytes / pathology
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Maternal Exposure / prevention & control
  • Micronuclei, Chromosome-Defective / chemically induced*
  • Micronuclei, Chromosome-Defective / drug effects
  • Micronuclei, Chromosome-Defective / statistics & numerical data
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / chemically induced*
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / genetics
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / prevention & control
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Surveys and Questionnaires


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Ascorbic Acid