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Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/EHP274

Aerobic Fitness and Neurocognitive Function Scores in Young Faroese Adults and Potential Modification by Prenatal Methylmercury Exposure

Youssef Oulhote,1 Frodi Debes,2 Sonja Vestergaard,3 Pal Weihe,2 and Philippe Grandjean1,3
Author Affiliations open
1Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA; 2Department of Occupational Medicine and Public Health, Faroese Hospital System, Torshavn, Faroe Islands; 3Institute of Public Health, University of Southern Denmark, Odense, Denmark

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  • Background: Exposure to methylmercury was shown to decrease neural stem cell populations, whereas aerobic fitness has beneficial effects on the adult brain that relies on improved neurogenesis in the hippocampus.

    Objectives: To examine the association between aerobic fitness and neurocognitive outcomes at young adult age, along with the potential moderating effect of prenatal exposure to methylmercury.

    Methods: At age 22 years, 262 members of a Faroese birth cohort, established in 1986-1987, underwent a graded exercise test of aerobic fitness to measure maximal oxygen uptake (VO2Max). Their prenatal methylmercury exposure had been assessed from the mercury concentration in cord blood. We estimated cross-sectional associations between VO2Max and multiple measures of neurocognitive function. In addition, we compared groups with low and high prenatal methylmercury exposure.

    Results: A one standard deviation (SD) increase in VO2Max was associated with better scores on short-term memory and cognitive processing speed by 0.21 SD (95% CI: -0.04, 0.46) and 0.28 SD (95% CI: 0.02, 0.54), respectively. In the group with lower prenatal methylmercury exposure, a one SD increase in VO2Max was associated with increased scores on cognitive processing speed by 0.45 SD (95% CI: 0.08, 0.81) and with a slightly lesser benefit in short-term memory. No such association was observed in the group with high prenatal methylmercury exposure.

    Conclusions: Higher aerobic capacity was associated with better performance in short-term memory and processing speed. However, prenatal methylmercury exposure seemed to attenuate these positive associations.

  • This EHP Advance Publication article has been peer-reviewed, revised, and accepted for publication. EHP Advance Publication articles are completely citable using the DOI number assigned to the article. This document will be replaced with the copyedited and formatted version as soon as it is available. Through the DOI number used in the citation, you will be able to access this document at each stage of the publication process.

    Citation: Oulhote Y, Debes F, Vestergaard S, Weihe P, Grandjean P. Aerobic Fitness and Neurocognitive Function Scores in Young Faroese Adults and Potential Modification by Prenatal Methylmercury Exposure. Environ Health Perspect; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/EHP274

    Received: 25 January 2016
    Revised: 2 August 2016
    Accepted: 19 August 2016
    Published: 9 September 2016

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