Recurrence quantification analysis to characterize cyclical components of environmental elemental exposures during fetal and postnatal development

PLoS One. 2017 Nov 7;12(11):e0187049. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0187049. eCollection 2017.


Environmental exposures to essential and toxic elements may alter health trajectories, depending on the timing, intensity, and mixture of exposures. In epidemiologic studies, these factors are typically analyzed as a function of elemental concentrations in biological matrices measured at one or more points in time. Such an approach, however, fails to account for the temporal cyclicity in the metabolism of environmental chemicals, which if perturbed may lead to adverse health outcomes. Here, we conceptualize and apply a non-linear method-recurrence quantification analysis (RQA)-to quantify cyclical components of prenatal and early postnatal exposure profiles for elements essential to normal development, including Zn, Mn, Mg, and Ca, and elements associated with deleterious health effects or narrow tolerance ranges, including Pb, As, and Cr. We found robust evidence of cyclical patterns in the metabolic profiles of nutrient elements, which we validated against randomized twin-surrogate time-series, and further found that nutrient dynamical properties differ from those of Cr, As, and Pb. Furthermore, we extended this approach to provide a novel method of quantifying dynamic interactions between two environmental exposures. To achieve this, we used cross-recurrence quantification analysis (CRQA), and found that elemental nutrient-nutrient interactions differed from those involving toxicants. These rhythmic regulatory interactions, which we characterize in two geographically distinct cohorts, have not previously been uncovered using traditional regression-based approaches, and may provide a critical unit of analysis for environmental and dietary exposures in epidemiological studies.

MeSH terms

  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Fetal Development*
  • Growth*
  • Hazardous Substances / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure
  • Pregnancy


  • Hazardous Substances