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Objectives: Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most frequently diagnosed neurobehavioral disorder of childhood, yet its etiology is not well understood. In this review we present evidence that environmental chemicals, particularly polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and lead, are associated with deficits in many neurobehavioral functions that are also impaired in ADHD.
Data sources: Human and animal studies of developmental PCB or lead exposures that assessed specific functional domains shown to be impaired in ADHD children were identified via searches of PubMed using “lead” or “PCB exposure” in combination with key words, including “attention,” “working memory,” “response inhibition,” “executive function,” “cognitive function,” “behavior,” and “ADHD.”
Data synthesis: Children and laboratory animals exposed to lead or PCBs show deficits in many aspects of attention and executive function that have been shown to be impaired in children diagnosed with ADHD, including tests of working memory, response inhibition, vigilance, and alertness. Studies conducted to date suggest that lead may reduce both attention and response inhibition, whereas PCBs may impair response inhibition to a greater degree than attention. Low-level lead exposure has been associated with a clinical diagnosis of ADHD in several recent studies. Similar studies of PCBs have not been conducted.
Conclusions: We speculate that exposures to environmental contaminants, including lead and PCBs, may increase the prevalence of ADHD.
Background: Exposure to organophosphate (OP) pesticides, well-known neurotoxicants, has been associated with neurobehavioral deficits in children.
Objectives: We investigated whether OP exposure, as measured by urinary dialkyl phosphate (DAP) metabolites in pregnant women and their children, was associated with attention-related outcomes among Mexican-American children living in an agricultural region of California.
Methods: Children were assessed at ages 3.5 years (n = 331) and 5 years (n = 323). Mothers completed the Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL). We administered the NEPSY-II visual attention subtest to children at 3.5 years and Conners’ Kiddie Continuous Performance Test (K-CPT) at 5 years. The K-CPT yielded a standardized attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) Confidence Index score. Psychometricians scored behavior of the 5-year-olds during testing using the Hillside Behavior Rating Scale.
Results: Prenatal DAPs (nanomoles per liter) were nonsignificantly associated with maternal report of attention problems and ADHD at age 3.5 years but were significantly related at age 5 years [CBCL attention problems: β = 0.7 points; 95% confidence interval (CI), 0.2–1.2; ADHD: β = 1.3; 95% CI, 0.4–2.1]. Prenatal DAPs were associated with scores on the K-CPT ADHD Confidence Index > 70th percentile [odds ratio (OR) = 5.1; 95% CI, 1.7–15.7] and with a composite ADHD indicator of the various measures (OR = 3.5; 95% CI, 1.1–10.7). Some outcomes exhibited evidence of effect modification by sex, with associations found only among boys. There was also limited evidence of associations between child DAPs and attention.
Conclusions: In utero DAPs and, to a lesser extent, postnatal DAPs were associated adversely with attention as assessed by maternal report, psychometrician observation, and direct assessment. These associations were somewhat stronger at 5 years than at 3.5 years and were stronger in boys.
Objectives: Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is the most frequently diagnosed childhood neurobehavioral disorder. Much research has been done to identify genetic, environmental, and social risk factors for ADHD; however, we are still far from fully understanding its etiology. In this review we provide an overview of diagnostic criteria for ADHD and what is known about its biological basis. We also review the neuropsychological functions that are affected in ADHD. The goal is to familiarize the reader with the behavioral deficits that are hallmarks of ADHD and to facilitate comparisons with neurobehavioral deficits associated with environmental chemical exposures.
Data sources: Relevant literature on ADHD is reviewed, focusing in particular on meta-analyses conducted between 2004 and the present that evaluated associations between measures of neuropsychological function and ADHD in children. Meta-analyses were obtained through searches of the PubMed electronic database using the terms “ADHD,” “meta-analysis,” “attention,” “executive,” and “neuropsychological functions.” Although meta-analyses are emphasized, nonquantitative reviews are included for particular neuropsychological functions where no meta-analyses were available.
Data synthesis: The meta-analyses indicate that vigilance (sustained attention), response inhibition, and working memory are impaired in children diagnosed with ADHD. Similar but somewhat less consistent meta-analytic findings have been reported for impairments in alertness, cognitive flexibility, and planning. Additionally, the literature suggests deficits in temporal information processing and altered responses to reinforcement in children diagnosed with ADHD. Findings from brain imagining and neurochemistry studies support the behavioral findings.
Conclusions: Behavioral, neuroanatomical, and neurochemical data indicate substantial differences in attention and executive functions between children diagnosed with ADHD and non-ADHD controls. Comparisons of the neurobehavioral deficits associated with ADHD and those associated with exposures to environmental chemicals may help to identify possible environmental risk factors for ADHD and/or reveal common underlying biological mechanisms.
Objectives: A large body of literature documents the effects of prenatal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on cognitive development of children. Despite this fact, no integrative synthesis has been published yet to identify the cognitive functions that are particularly affected. Our aim is to review this literature in an attempt to identify the cognitive profile associated with prenatal PCB exposure.
Data sources: Studies were identified by searching the PubMed database for articles published before June 2008. We reviewed data from nine prospective longitudinal birth cohorts for different aspects of cognition.
Data extraction: Associations between indicators of prenatal PCB exposure and performance on cognitive tasks reported in the selected studies are summarized and classified as general cognitive abilities, verbal or visual–spatial skills, memory, attention, and executive functions.
Data synthesis: The most consistent effects observed across studies are impaired executive functioning related to increased prenatal PCB exposure. Negative effects on processing speed, verbal abilities, and visual recognition memory are also reported by most studies. Converging results from different cohort studies in which exposure arises from different sources make it unlikely that co-exposure with another associated contaminant is responsible for the observed effects.
Conclusion: Prenatal PCB exposure appears to be related to a relatively specific cognitive profile of impairments. Failure to assess functions that are specifically impaired may explain the absence of effects found in some studies. Our findings have implications in the selection of cognitive assessment methods in future studies.
Background: Prenatal exposure to methylmercury (MeHg) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) has been associated with impaired performance on attention tasks in previous studies, but the extent to which these cognitive deficits translate into behavioral problems in the classroom and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) remains unknown. By contrast, lead (Pb) exposure in childhood has been associated with ADHD and disruptive behaviors in several studies.
Objectives: In this study we examined the relation of developmental exposure to MeHg, PCBs, and Pb to behavioral problems at school age in Inuit children exposed through their traditional diet.
Methods: In a prospective longitudinal study conducted in the Canadian Arctic, exposure to contaminants was measured at birth and at school age. An assessment of child behavior (n = 279; mean age = 11.3 years) was obtained from the child’s classroom teacher on the Teacher Report Form (TRF) from the Child Behavior Checklist, and the Disruptive Behavior Disorders Rating Scale (DBD).
Results: Cord blood mercury concentrations were associated with higher TRF symptom scores for attention problems and DBD scores consistent with ADHD. Current blood Pb concentrations were associated with higher TRF symptom scores for externalizing problems and with symptoms of ADHD (hyperactive-impulsive type) based on the DBD.
Conclusions: To our knowledge, this study is the first to identify an association between prenatal MeHg and ADHD symptomatology in childhood and the first to replicate previously reported associations between low-level childhood Pb exposure and ADHD in a population exposed to Pb primarily from dietary sources.
background: California children’s exposures to polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants (PBDEs) are among the highest worldwide. PBDEs are known endocrine disruptors and neurotoxicants in animals.
Objective: Here we investigate the relation of in utero and child PBDE exposure to neurobehavioral development among participants in CHAMACOS (Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas), a California birth cohort.
Methods: We measured PBDEs in maternal prenatal and child serum samples and examined the association of PBDE concentrations with children’s attention, motor functioning, and cognition at 5 (n = 310) and 7 years of age (n = 323).
Results: Maternal prenatal PBDE concentrations were associated with impaired attention as measured by a continuous performance task at 5 years and maternal report at 5 and 7 years of age, with poorer fine motor coordination—particularly in the nondominant—at both age points, and with decrements in Verbal and Full-Scale IQ at 7 years. PBDE concentrations in children 7 years of age were significantly or marginally associated with concurrent teacher reports of attention problems and decrements in Processing Speed, Perceptual Reasoning, Verbal Comprehension, and Full-Scale IQ. These associations were not altered by adjustment for birth weight, gestational age, or maternal thyroid hormone levels.
Conclusions: Both prenatal and childhood PBDE exposures were associated with poorer attention, fine motor coordination, and cognition in the CHAMACOS cohort of school-age children. This study, the largest to date, contributes to growing evidence suggesting that PBDEs have adverse impacts on child neurobehavioral development.
Background: Ambient air pollution may have neurotoxic effects in children. Data examining associations between traffic-related air pollution and attention domains remain sparse.
Objectives: We examined associations between black carbon (BC), a marker of traffic particles, and attention measures ascertained at 7–14 years of age among 174 children in a birth cohort based in the Boston, Massachusetts, area.
Methods: We estimated BC levels using a validated spatial–temporal land-use regression model based on residence during children’s lifetime. Children completed the Conner’s Continuous Performance Test (CPT) measuring omission errors, commission errors, and hit reaction time (HRT), with higher scores indicating increased errors or slower reaction time. Multivariable-adjusted linear regression analyses were used to examine associations between BC and each attention outcome.
Results: Children were primarily Hispanic (56%) and Caucasian (41%); 53% were boys. We found a positive association between higher BC levels with increased commission errors and slower HRT, adjusting for child IQ, age, sex, blood lead level, maternal education, pre- and postnatal tobacco smoke exposure, and community-level social stress. Notably, the association was weaker, though still positive, for the highest BC quartile relative to the middle two quartiles. Sex-stratified analysis demonstrated statistically significant associations between BC and both commission errors and HRT in boys, but BC was not significantly associated with any of the CPT outcomes in girls.
Conclusions: In this population of urban children, we found associations between BC exposure and higher commission errors and slower reaction time. These associations were overall more apparent in boys than girls.
Aerial emissions from a swine house at North Carolina State University’s field laboratory were diluted to a level that could occur at varying distances downwind from a confined animal feeding operation (CAFO) both within and beyond the property line, and these emissions were delivered to an environmental exposure chamber. The study design consisted of two 1-hr sessions, one in which 48 healthy human adult volunteers were exposed to diluted swine air and another in which they were exposed to clean air (control). Objective measures of blood pressure, temperature, heart rate, respiratory rate, lung function, nasal inflammation, secretory immunity, mood, attention, and memory were correlated with objective measures of air quality. Ratings of perceived (self-reported) health symptoms were also obtained. The mean levels of airborne constituents in the swine air condition were hydrogen sulfide (24 ppb), ammonia (817 ppb), total suspended particulates (0.0241 mg/m), endotoxin (7.40 endotoxin units/m), and odor (57 times above odor threshold). No statistical differences on objective measures of physical symptoms, mood, or attention resulted from the 1-hr exposure to swine emissions in the environmental chamber when compared with clean air for healthy human volunteers. However, subjects were 4.1 (p = 0.001) times more likely to report headaches, 6.1 (p = 0.004) times more likely to report eye irritation, and 7.8 (p = 0.014) times more likely to report nausea in the swine air (experimental) condition than in the control condition. These results indicate that short-term exposure in an environmental chamber to malodorous emissions from a swine house at levels expected downwind can induce clinically important symptoms in healthy human volunteers.
Background: There is growing pressure for clinicians to prescribe chelation therapy at only slightly elevated blood lead levels. However, very few studies have evaluated whether chelation improves cognitive outcomes in Pb-exposed children, or whether these agents have adverse effects that may affect brain development in the absence of Pb exposure.
Objectives: The present study was designed to answer these questions, using a rodent model of early childhood Pb exposure and treatment with succimer, a widely used chelating agent for the treatment of Pb poisoning.
Results: Pb exposure produced lasting impairments in learning, attention, inhibitory control, and arousal regulation, paralleling the areas of dysfunction seen in Pb-exposed children. Succimer treatment of the Pb-exposed rats significantly improved learning, attention, and arousal regulation, although the efficacy of the treatment varied as a function of the Pb exposure level and the specific functional deficit. In contrast, succimer treatment of rats not previously exposed to Pb produced lasting and pervasive cognitive and affective dysfunction comparable in magnitude to that produced by the higher Pb exposure regimen.
Conclusions: These are the first data, to our knowledge, to show that treatment with any chelating agent can alleviate cognitive deficits due to Pb exposure. These findings suggest that it may be possible to identify a succimer treatment protocol that improves cognitive outcomes in Pb-exposed children. However, they also suggest that succimer treatment should be strongly discouraged for children who do not have elevated tissue levels of Pb or other heavy metals.