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Environ Epidemiol. 2019 Feb;3(1). pii: e039. doi: 10.1097/EE9.0000000000000039.

Associations of prenatal exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers and polychlorinated biphenyls with long-term gut microbiome structure: a pilot study.

Author information

Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia Mailman School of Public Health, New York, NY, USA.
Département de Pédiatrie, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada.
Department of Biostatistics, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA.
Department of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania and Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, PA, USA.
Department of Preventive Medicine, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago, IL, USA.
Département de Psychiatrie, Faculté de Médicine et Sciences de la Santé, Université de Sherbrooke, Sherbrooke, Québec, Canada.



The gut microbiome is influenced by early-life exposures, but-despite potentially enormous implications for child health-is understudied in environmental epidemiology. This pilot study is one of the first to explore in utero exposures and long-term gut microbiome profiles. We examined the association between exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) during pregnancy and the mid-childhood gut microbiome.


We measured levels of PBDE-47, -99, -100, and -153 and PCB-138, -153, and -180 in maternal plasma during early pregnancy (n=18) and at delivery (n=25) in women of European descent who breastfed the child participant of the Gestation and Environment cohort in Sherbrooke, Québec (recruited 2007-2009). Bacteria in the mid-childhood (6-8 years) fecal microbiome were detected with 16S rRNA sequencing. To test for differences at the taxon level, we used the Microbiome Comprehensive Association Mapping algorithm.


Early pregnancy PCB-153, -180, and the sum of PCBs (Σ3PCB) concentrations were associated with a higher relative abundance of Propionibacteriales and Propionibacteriaceae in mid-childhood. Higher PCB-180 and Σ3PCB were associated with higher relative abundance of Bacillales Family XI. Higher PBDE-99 exposure was associated with a decrease in uncultured bacteria within the Ruminococcaceae NK4A214 group and PBDE-47 was associated with differences in Ruminococcus 2. These taxon-level changes did not result in differences in within- or between-subject diversity. Exposures at delivery were not associated with differences in taxa.


Prenatal exposure to PCBs and PBDEs is associated with mid-childhood gut microbiome profiles. Larger studies are needed to confirm these results and explore health implications.

[Available on 2020-02-01]

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