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Environ Health Perspect. 2000 Jun;108 Suppl 3:451-5.

Identifying critical windows of exposure for children's health.

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  • 1National Center for Environmental Assessment, Office of Research and Development, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA. selevan.sherry@epa.gov


Several authors have considered the importance of exposure timing and how this affects the outcomes observed, but no one has systematically compiled preconceptional, prenatal, and postnatal developmental exposures and subsequent outcomes. Efforts were undertaken to examine the information available and to evaluate implications for risk assessment for several areas: a) respiratory and immune systems, b) reproductive system, c) nervous system, d) cardiovascular system, endocrine system, and general growth, and e) cancer. Major conclusions from a workshop on "Critical Windows of Exposure for Children's Health" included a) broad windows of sensitivity can be identified for many systems but detailed information is limited; b) cross-species comparisons of dose to target tissue and better data on the exposure-dose-outcome continuum are needed; c) increased interaction among scientific disciplines can further understanding by using laboratory animal results in designing epidemiological studies and human data to suggest specific laboratory studies on mechanisms and agent-target interactions; and d) thus far, only limited attention has been given to peripubertal/adolescent exposures, adult consequences of developmental exposures, and genome-environment interactions. More specific information on developmental windows will improve risk assessment by identifying the most sensitive window(s) for evaluation of dose-response relationships and exposure, evaluation of biological plausibility of research findings in humans, and comparison of data across species. In public health and risk management, information on critical windows may help identify especially susceptible subgroups for specific interventions.

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