Associations of prenatal exposure to phthalates with measures of cognition in 7.5-month-old infants

Kelsey L.C. Dzwilewski, Megan L. Woodbury, Andrea Aguiar, Jessica Shoaff, Francheska Merced-Nieves, Susan A. Korrick, Susan L. Schantz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Phthalates are endocrine disrupting chemicals that have been associated with adverse neurobehavior, but little is known about their influence on infant cognition. Methods: A visual recognition memory task was used to assess cognition in 244 7–8-month-old infants (121 females; 123 males) from a prospective cohort study. Phthalate metabolites were quantified in maternal urines pooled from across pregnancy. The task included familiarization trials (infant shown 2 identical faces) and test trials (infant shown the now familiar face paired with a novel one). Half of the infants saw one set of faces as familiar (set 1) and half saw the other set as familiar (set 2). During familiarization trials, average run duration (time looking at stimuli before looking away, measure of processing speed), and time to familiarization (time to reach 20 s looking at the stimuli, measure of attention) were assessed. During test trials, novelty preference (proportion of time looking at the novel face, measure of recognition memory) was assessed. Multivariable generalized linear models were used to assess associations of monoethyl phthalate (MEP), sum of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate metabolites (ΣDEHP), sum of di(isononyl) phthalate metabolites (ΣDINP), and sum of anti-androgenic phthalate metabolites (ΣAA) with each outcome. Results: Mothers were mostly white and college educated, and urine phthalate concentrations were similar to those in reproductive age women in the U.S. population. All phthalate exposure biomarkers, except MEP, were associated with increases in average run duration. However, depending on the phthalate, associations were only in males or infants who saw the set 2 stimuli as familiar. Unexpectedly, ΣAA was associated with a shorter time to reach familiarization. Phthalate biomarkers also were associated with modest decrements in novelty preference, but these associations were nonsignificant. Conclusion: Prenatal exposure to phthalates may be related to slower information processing and poorer recognition memory in infants.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)84-95
Number of pages12
StatePublished - May 2021


  • Attention
  • Infant cognition
  • Information processing speed
  • Phthalates
  • Visual recognition memory

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Toxicology

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