Prenatal exposure to perfluorodecanoic acid is associated with lower circulating concentration of adrenal steroid metabolites during mini puberty in human female infants. The Odense Child Cohort

Environ Res. 2020 Mar;182:109101. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2019.109101. Epub 2019 Dec 31.


Background: Fetal programming of the endocrine system may be affected by exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances (PFAAs), as they easily cross the placental barrier. In vitro studies suggest that PFAAs may disrupt steroidogenesis. "Mini puberty" refers to a transient surge in circulating androgens, androgen precursors, and gonadotropins in infant girls and boys within the first postnatal months. We hypothesize that prenatal PFAA exposure may decrease the concentrations of androgens in mini puberty.

Objectives: To investigate associations between maternal serum PFAA concentrations in early pregnancy and serum concentrations of androgens, their precursors, and gonadotropins during mini puberty in infancy.

Methods: In the prospective Odense Child Cohort, maternal pregnancy serum concentrations of five PFAAs: Perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), and perfluorodecanoic acid (PFDA) were measured at median gestational week 12 (IQR: 10, 15) in 1628 women. Among these, offspring serum concentrations of dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), dehydroepiandrosterone-sulfate (DHEAS), androstenedione, 17-hydroxyprogesterone (17-OHP), testosterone, luteinizing (LH) and follicle stimulating hormones (FSH) were measured in 373 children (44% girls; 56% boys) at a mean age of 3.9 (±0.9 SD) months. Multivariate linear regression models were performed to estimate associations.

Results: A two-fold increase in maternal PFDA concentration was associated with a reduction in DHEA concentration by -19.6% (95% CI: -32.9%, -3.8%) in girls. In girls, also, the androstenedione and DHEAS concentrations were decreased, albeit non-significantly (p < 0.11), with a two-fold increase in maternal PFDA concentration. In boys, no significant association was found between PFAAs and concentrations of androgens, their precursors, and gonadotropins during mini puberty.

Conclusion: Prenatal PFDA exposure was associated with significantly lower serum DHEA concentrations and possibly also with lower androstenedione and DHEAS concentrations in female infants at mini puberty. The clinical significance of these findings remains to be elucidated.

Keywords: Adrenal; Androgens; Developmental toxicity; Mini puberty; Perfluoroalkyl substances; Pregnancy.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenal Glands / drug effects
  • Adrenal Glands / metabolism
  • Alkanesulfonic Acids*
  • Child
  • Decanoic Acids* / toxicity
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone* / blood
  • Environmental Pollutants*
  • Female
  • Fluorocarbons* / toxicity
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Puberty*


  • Alkanesulfonic Acids
  • Decanoic Acids
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Fluorocarbons
  • perfluorodecanoic acid
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone