Phthalates are known endocrine disruptors and found in almost all people with several associated adverse health outcomes reported in humans and animal models. Limited data are available on the relationship between exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals and the human metabolome. We examined the relationship of metabolomic profiles in plasma and urine of 115 pregnant women with eleven urine phthalate metabolites measured at 26 weeks of gestation to identify potential biomarkers and relevant pathways. Targeted metabolomics was performed by selected reaction monitoring liquid chromatography and triple quadrupole mass spectrometry to measure 415 metabolites in plasma and 151 metabolites in urine samples. We have chosen metabolites with the best defined peaks for more detailed analysis (138 in plasma and 40 in urine). Relationship between urine phthalate metabolites and concurrent metabolomic markers in plasma and urine suggested potential involvement of diverse pathways including lipid, steroid, and nucleic acid metabolism and enhanced inflammatory response. Most of the correlations were positive for both urine and plasma, and further confirmed by regression and PCA analysis. However, after the FDR adjustment for multiple comparisons, only 9 urine associations remained statistically significant (q-values 0.0001-0.0451), including Nicotinamide mononucleotide, Cysteine T2, Cystine, and L-Aspartic acid. Additionally, we found negative associations of maternal pre-pregnancy body mass index (BMI) with more than 20 metabolomic markers related to lipid and amino-acid metabolism and inflammation pathways in plasma (p = 0.01-0.0004), while Mevalonic acid was positively associated (p = 0.009). Nicotinic acid, the only significant metabolite in urine, had a positive association with maternal BMI (p = 0.002). In summary, when evaluated in the context of metabolic pathways, the findings suggest enhanced lipid biogenesis, inflammation and altered nucleic acid metabolism in association with higher phthalate levels. These results provide new insights into the relationship between phthalates, common in most human populations, and metabolomics, a novel approach to exposure and health biomonitoring.
Keywords: endocrine disruptors; in utero exposure; inflammation; phthalates; pregnancy; targeted metabolomics.