Associations of prenatal phthalate exposure with neurobehavioral outcomes in 4.5- and 7.5-month-old infants

Jenna L.N. Sprowles, Kelsey L.C. Dzwilewski, Francheska M. Merced-Nieves, Salma M.A. Musaad, Susan L. Schantz, Sarah D. Geiger

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Phthalates are ubiquitous endocrine-disrupting chemicals, and research indicates that prenatal exposure to some phthalates may affect neurodevelopment. In a prospective birth cohort study, five first-morning urine samples collected across pregnancy were pooled and the following phthalate biomarkers assessed: sum of di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate metabolites (ΣDEHP), sum of diisononyl phthalate metabolites (ΣDINP), sum of dibutyl phthalate metabolites (ΣDBP), sum of anti-androgenic metabolites (ΣAA), monoethyl phthalate (MEP), and sum of all phthalate metabolites (ΣAll). The Ages & Stages Questionnaires® (ASQ), a standardized parent-reported, age-adapted screening tool, measured communication, personal-social, problem solving, and motor domains in infants at 4.5 and 7.5 months (n = 123). Adjusting for maternal age, annual household income, gestational age at birth, infant age at assessment, and sex, repeated-measures generalized linear regression models were used to examine associations between prenatal phthalate urine biomarker concentrations and domain scores (assuming a Poisson distribution). Beta estimates were exponentiated back to the domain scale for ease of interpretation. Mothers were mostly white and college-educated, and most reported an annual household income of ≥$60,000. Associations of phthalate concentrations with ASQ outcomes are presented as follows: (1) anti-androgenic phthalate metabolites (ΣDEHP, ΣDINP, ΣDBP, and ΣAA), (2) MEP, which is not anti-androgenic, and (3) ΣAll. Overall, anti-androgenic phthalates were associated with higher (i.e., better) scores. However, there were exceptions, including the finding that a one-unit increase in ΣDBP was associated with a 12% increase in problem solving scores in 4.5-month-old females (β = 1.12; 95% CI: 0.99, 1.28; p = 0.067) but a 85% decrease for 7.5-month-old females (β = 0.54; 95% CI: 0.3, 0.99; p = 0.047). In contrast, MEP was associated with poorer scores on several outcomes. Sex- and timepoint-specific estimates demonstrated a one-unit increase in MEP was associated with: a 52% decrease in personal-social scores in 7.5-month-old males (β = 0.66; 95% CI: 0.46, 0.95; p = 0.02), a 39% decrease in fine motor scores in 7.5-month-old males (β = 0.72; 95% CI: 0.52, 0.98; p = 0.035), and a 6% decrease in fine motor scores in 4.5-month-old females (β = 0.94; 95% CI: 0.88, 0.99; p = 0.03). A one-unit increase in ΣAll was associated with a 4% increase in personal-social scores in 4.5-month-old males (β = 1.04; 95% CI: 0.99, 1.1; p = 0.08) but a 17% decrease in 7.5-month-old males (β = 0.85; 95% CI: 0.73, 0.99; p = 0.03). These data suggest age- and sex-specific associations of prenatal phthalates with infant neurobehavior. The current findings should be confirmed by longitudinal studies with larger sample sizes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number107102
JournalNeurotoxicology and Teratology
StatePublished - Jul 1 2022


  • Infant neurobehavior
  • Phthalates
  • Prenatal concentrations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Toxicology


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