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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

East Tennessee Reports on Long-Term Consequences of Prenatal Environmental Exposures

Dr. Mildred Maisonet, an assistant professor in the department of biostatistics and epidemiology, has authored two publications on the long-term consequences of prenatal exposure to environmental contaminants.  In the first, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, results suggested that prenatal exposure to polyfluoroalkyl acids alters testosterone concentrations in females.  In the second, published in Environment International, results suggested that prenatal exposure to the same environmental contaminant alters serum lipids concentrations at the lower exposure levels. 


In addition, she collaborated on a third publication aimed to study whether changes in the kidney’s glomerular filtration rates in mothers during pregnancy modified the influence of prenatal exposure to polyfluoroalkyl acids on their offspring’s birth weight. Results of this study were also published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Polyfluoroalkyl acids are a class of man-made chemicals used in a wide variety of consumer products. Human exposure to PFAAs is common and sources include food, water, and dust.  A fetus can be exposed to environmental contaminants during pregnancy, as these substances are known to enter the placenta. The ‘fetal origins of disease’ hypothesis proposes that an adverse fetal environment may result in permanent changes in body structure and function and increase the risk of disease throughout the lifespan.

High serum testosterone concentrations in females are linked to disruptions in reproductive function, metabolic disorders, and possibly increased cardiovascular disease risk. Higher serum lipid concentrations are known predictors of cardiovascular disease in humans. Effects of higher testosterone and lipid concentrations in human health underscore the importance of elucidating the influence of prenatal exposure to environmental contaminants on biologic markers.

Dr. Maisonet believes replication of the reported associations in other large independent cohorts is important. She states, “Mothers who are exposed to environmental toxins during pregnancy can pass these exposures to the fetus and increase their children’s likelihood of developing reproductive or metabolic outcomes in adult life. Understanding the role of prenatal exposures to environmental contaminants on human disease informs the development of preventive actions.” Dr. Maisonet’s research interests include endocrine disrupting chemicals, fetal origins of disease, and children’s environmental health. Her work with the long-term consequences of prenatal exposures to environmental contaminants is a topic of major public health significance.