Prenatal Ambient Ultrafine Particle Exposure and Childhood Asthma in the Northeastern United States

Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2021 Oct 1;204(7):788-796. doi: 10.1164/rccm.202010-3743OC.


Rationale: Ambient ultrafine particles (UFPs; with an aerodynamic diameter < 0.1 μm) may exert greater toxicity than other pollution components because of their enhanced oxidative capacity and ability to translocate systemically. Studies examining associations between prenatal UFP exposure and childhood asthma remain sparse. Objectives: We used daily UFP exposure estimates to identify windows of susceptibility of prenatal UFP exposure related to asthma in children, accounting for sex-specific effects. Methods: Analyses included 376 mother-child dyads followed since pregnancy. Daily UFP exposure during pregnancy was estimated by using a spatiotemporally resolved particle number concentration prediction model. Bayesian distributed lag interaction models were used to identify windows of susceptibility for UFP exposure and examine whether effect estimates varied by sex. Incident asthma was determined at the first report of asthma (3.6 ± 3.2 yr). Covariates included maternal age, education, race, and obesity; child sex; nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and temperature averaged over gestation; and postnatal UFP exposure. Measurements and Main Results: Women were 37.8% Black and 43.9% Hispanic, with 52.9% reporting having an education at the high school level or lower; 18.4% of children developed asthma. The cumulative odds ratio (95% confidence interval) for incident asthma per doubling of the UFP exposure concentration across pregnancy was 4.28 (1.41-15.7), impacting males and females similarly. Bayesian distributed lag interaction models indicated sex differences in the windows of susceptibility, with the highest risk of asthma seen in females exposed to higher UFP concentrations during late pregnancy. Conclusions: Prenatal UFP exposure was associated with asthma development in children, independent of correlated ambient NO2 and temperature. Findings will benefit future research and policy-makers who are considering appropriate regulations to reduce the adverse effects of UFPs on child respiratory health.

Keywords: child asthma; prenatal; sensitive windows; sex-specific; ultrafine particles.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / analysis
  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution / analysis
  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Asthma / etiology*
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Infant
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Maternal Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Maternal Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • New England / epidemiology
  • Odds Ratio
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity*
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / epidemiology
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects / etiology*
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter