In January 2020 researchers from the USA published the results of their study to assess the potential interactions between prenatal polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons exposure and psychosocial/socioeconomic stress on mental health issues in school-age children. The researchers stated that the role of environmental neurotoxic substances, eg polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, on the risk of mental illness is of growing concern. It is already known that prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are common in air pollution, is linked to adverse physical, behavioral, and cognitive function as well as increasing the risk of mental health issues. In this study prenantal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons was assessed though air monitoring during pregnancy. In addition, mothers reported on the child’s exposure to early life stress when the child was aged 5 years, and completed a Child Behaviour Checklist when the child was aged 5, 7, 9 and 11 years. Any potential mental health issues in the child were then assessed. Results showed that the interaction between significant prenatal exposure to airborne polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and early life stresses predicted Attention and Thought Problems scores when the child was aged 11 years. Children with a higher prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons also had a stronger association between early life stress and higher Attention and Thought Problem scores. A further analysis revealed that the interaction between polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and early life stress on Attention Problems was stronger later in development.
Pagliaccio D et al. Prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons modifies the effects of early life stress on attention and thought problems in late childhood. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2020 Jan 7. [Epub ahead of print]