Pyrethroids and developmental neurotoxicity - A critical review of epidemiological studies and supporting mechanistic evidence

Environ Res. 2022 Nov;214(Pt 2):113935. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2022.113935. Epub 2022 Jul 20.


Background: Pyrethroid metabolites are widely detectable in urine from the general population, including pregnant women and children. Pyrethroids are neurotoxic and suggested endocrine disruptors. Exposure during vulnerable developmental time windows may have long-term impacts on neurodevelopment.

Objective: To evaluate the epidemiological evidence for neurodevelopmental effects related to prenatal and childhood pyrethroid exposure in a systematic review and to assess biological plausibility by evaluating mechanistic evidence.

Methods: We searched PubMed and Web of Science up to September 1, 2021 and included original studies published in English in which pyrethroid exposure was measured or estimated during pregnancy or childhood and associations with neurodevelopmental outcomes in the children were investigated. The Navigation Guide Systematic Review Methodology was used to evaluate the epidemiological evidence. For mechanistic evidence, we focused on relevant key events (KEs) suggested in Adverse Outcome Pathways (AOPs) using the OECD-supported AOP-wiki platform. A systematic search combining the KEs with pyrethroids, including 26 individual compounds, was performed in the ToxCast database.

Results: Twenty-five epidemiological studies met the inclusion criteria, 17 presented findings on prenatal exposure, 10 on childhood exposure and two on both exposure windows. The overall body of evidence was rated as "moderate quality" with "sufficient evidence" for an association between prenatal pyrethroid exposure and adverse neurodevelopment. For childhood exposure, the overall rating was "low quality" with "limited evidence" because of cross-sectional study design. Regarding mechanistic evidence, we found that pyrethroids are able to interfere with neurodevelopmental KEs included in established AOPs for adverse neurodevelopmental. The evidence was strongest for interference with thyroid hormone (TH) function.

Conclusion: Pyrethroids are probably human developmental neurotoxicants and adverse impacts of pyrethroid exposure on neurodevelopment are likely at exposure levels occurring in the general population. Preventive measures to reduce exposure among pregnant women and children are warranted.

Keywords: Adverse outcome pathways; Children; Insecticides; Neurodevelopment; Pyrethroids; Review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Insecticides* / toxicity
  • Pregnancy
  • Pyrethrins* / metabolism
  • Pyrethrins* / toxicity
  • Thyroid Hormones


  • Insecticides
  • Pyrethrins
  • Thyroid Hormones