Neuroanatomical differences in Latinx children from rural farmworker families and urban non-farmworker families and related associations with pesticide exposure

Heliyon. 2023 Nov 3;9(11):e21929. doi: 10.1016/j.heliyon.2023.e21929. eCollection 2023 Nov.


Exposure to pesticides in humans may lead to changes in brain structure and function and increase the likelihood of experiencing neurodevelopmental disorders. Despite the potential risks, there is limited neuroimaging research on the effects of pesticide exposure on children, particularly during the critical period of brain development. Here we used voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) from magnetic resonance images (MRI) to investigate neuroanatomical differences between Latinx children (n = 71) from rural, farmworker families (FW; n = 48) and urban, non-farmworker families (NFW; n = 23). Data presented here serves as a baseline for our ongoing study examining the longitudinal effects of living in a rural environment on neurodevelopment and cognition in children. The VBM analysis revealed that NFW children had higher volume in several distinct regions of white matter compared to FW children. Tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) of DTI data also indicated NFW children had higher fractional anisotropy (FA) in several key white matter tracts. Although the difference was not as pronounced as white matter, the VBM analysis also found higher gray matter volume in selected regions of the frontal lobe in NFW children. Notably, white matter and gray matter findings demonstrated a high degree of overlap in the medial frontal lobe, a brain region predominantly linked to decision-making, error processing, and attention functions. To gain further insights into the underlying causes of the observed differences in brain structure between the two groups, we examined the association of organochlorine (OC) and organophosphate (OP) exposure collected from passive dosimeter wristbands with brain structure. Based on our previous findings within this data set, demonstrating higher OC exposure in children from non-farmworker families, we hypothesized OC might play a critical role in structural differences between NFW and FW children. We discovered a significant positive correlation between the number of types of OC exposure and the structure of white matter. The regions with significant association with OC exposure were in agreement with the findings from the FW-NFW groups comparison analysis. In contrast, OPs did not have a statistically significant association with brain structure. This study is among the first multimodal neuroimaging studies examining the brain structure of children exposed to agricultural pesticides, specifically OC. These findings suggest OC pesticide exposure may disrupt normal brain development in children, highlighting the need for further neuroimaging studies within this vulnerable population.

Keywords: Children; DTI; FA; Farmworker; Organochlorine; Organophosphate; Pesticide exposure; TBSS; VBM; White matter.