Metabolomics of childhood exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances: a cross-sectional study

Metabolomics. 2019 Jun 21;15(7):95. doi: 10.1007/s11306-019-1560-z.


Introduction: Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), synthetic and persistent chemicals used in commercial and industrial processes, are associated with cardiometabolic dysfunction and related risk factors including reduced birth weight, excess adiposity, and dyslipidemia. Identifying the metabolic changes induced by PFAS exposure could enhance our understanding of biological pathways underlying PFAS toxicity.

Objective: To identify metabolic alterations associated with serum concentrations of four PFAS in children using a metabolome-wide association study.

Methods: We performed untargeted metabolomic profiling by liquid chromatography with ultra-high-resolution mass spectrometry, and separately quantified serum concentrations of perfluorooctanoic acid, perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, perfluorononanoic acid, and perfluorohexanesulfonic acid (PFHxS) for 114 8-year old children from Cincinnati, OH. We evaluated associations between each serum PFAS concentration and 16,097 metabolic features using linear regression adjusted for child age, sex, and race with a false discovery rate < 20%. We annotated PFAS-associated metabolites and conducted pathway enrichment analyses.

Results: Serum PFAS concentrations were associated with metabolic features annotated primarily as lipids and dietary factors. Biological pathways associated with all four PFAS included arginine, proline, aspartate, asparagine, and butanoate metabolism.

Conclusions: In this cross-sectional study, childhood serum PFAS concentrations were correlated with metabolic pathways related to energy production and catabolism. Future studies should determine whether these pathways mediate associations between PFAS exposure and childhood cardiometabolic health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alkanesulfonic Acids / blood
  • Caprylates / blood
  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Female
  • Fluorocarbons / blood*
  • Fluorocarbons / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Lipids / blood
  • Male
  • Metabolic Networks and Pathways
  • Metabolomics*
  • Sulfonic Acids / blood


  • Alkanesulfonic Acids
  • Caprylates
  • Fluorocarbons
  • Lipids
  • Sulfonic Acids
  • perfluorohexanesulfonic acid
  • perfluorooctanoic acid
  • perfluorooctane sulfonic acid