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Toxicol Sci. 2010 Oct;117(2):263-9. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/kfq216. Epub 2010 Jul 14.

Effects of maternal smoking and exposure to methylmercury on brain-derived neurotrophic factor concentrations in umbilical cord serum.

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  • 1Department of Neuroscience, Karolinska Institutet, 17177 Stockholm, Sweden.


Brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) is a neurotrophin essential for neuronal survival and differentiation. We examined the concentration of BDNF in cord serum from newborns exposed to methylmercury (MeHg) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) in utero by maternal consumption of whale meat. The cohort consisted of 395 singleton births (206 boys and 189 girls), gestational age ranging from 38 to 42 weeks. Serum BDNF was measured by sandwich ELISA. Maternal smoking habits and other relevant factors were obtained by interviewing the mothers. The exposure to MeHg was estimated from Hg concentrations in cord blood, whereas exposure to PCB was estimated based on maternal serum concentrations. Only MeHg exposure affected the serum BDNF, which decreased in a concentration-dependent manner in girls born to nonsmoking mothers. Maternal smoking significantly increased BNDF in girls but not in boys. For further statistical analyses, we used the serum BDNF concentration as a continuous outcome variable in supervised regression models. Serum BDNF concentration increased with gestational age, increased by maternal smoking, decreased slightly with MeHg exposure, and maternal smoking enhanced the decrease in serum BDNF induced by MeHg exposure. Cord blood BDNF has been reported to increase in association with perinatal brain injuries and has been proposed as a possible predictive marker of neurodevelopmental outcomes. The negative effect that MeHg seems to exert on cord blood BDNF concentration could endanger compensatory responses to an adverse impact and therefore deserves attention.

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