Background: The prenatal period is a period of vulnerability during which neurotoxic exposures exert persistent changes in brain development and behavior. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs), used as flame retardants in commercial products, are known to be developmental neurotoxicants. PBDEs were phased out of use in the United States a decade ago, but exposure remains widespread due to their release from existing products and biopersistence. Despite consistent animal and epidemiological evidence of developmental neurotoxicity, the neural substrates linking prenatal PBDE serum concentrations to impaired neurodevelopment are poorly understood.
Methods: In the present study, we used resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine associations between prenatal PBDE concentrations measured in maternal serum and intrinsic functional network organization (i.e., global and local efficiency; estimated using a graph-theoretical approach) in 5-year-old children (n = 34). We explored whether PBDE serum concentrations were associated with executive functioning (EF) assessed using a parent-report questionnaire (BRIEF-P) (n = 106) and whether changes in intrinsic functional network organization linked the association between prenatal PBDE serum concentrations and EF problems.
Results: Children with higher prenatal PBDE serum concentrations showed: (a) increased global efficiency of brain areas involved in visual attention (e.g., inferior occipital gyrus) (β's = .01, FDR-corrected p's ≤ .05); (b) more reported EF problems (β's = .001, FDR-corrected p's ≤ .05). Higher global efficiency of brain areas involved in visual attention was associated with more EF problems (β's = .01, FDR-corrected p's < .05).
Conclusions: Intrinsic functional network organization of visual attention brain areas linked prenatal PBDE concentrations to EF problems in childhood. Visual attention may contribute to the development of higher-order cognitive functions, such as EF, which could be explored in future studies.
Keywords: Children; executive functioning; flame retardants; pregnancy; resting state fMRI.
© 2019 Association for Child and Adolescent Mental Health.