BACKGROUND: Parabens are used as antimicrobial preservatives in personal care products. Few studies have dealt with adverse health outcomes, transplacental transfer, and obesogenic effects of prenatal exposure to parabens. We examined the association between placental paraben levels and cord blood metabolic biomarkers, considering modulating effects of maternal pre-pregnancy BMI and underlying epigenetic mechanisms, and investigated longitudinal effects of in utero paraben exposure on early childhood trajectories of BMI z-scores.
METHODS: Placental concentrations of four parabens [methyl (MeP), ethyl (EtP), propyl (PrP), and butyl (BuP)] were measured by ultra-performance liquid chromatography/tandem mass spectrometry in 229 placentas of the ENVIRONAGE birth cohort. The association with cord blood metabolic biomarkers [glucose, insulin, γ-glutamyltransferase (GGT), high-density and low-density lipoprotein (HDL and LDL)] was analyzed in multiple regression models with two different sets of, a priori selected potential confounders, additionally stratified for different maternal BMI groups and assessed by causal mediation analysis. The association between placental paraben concentration and differential DNA methylation of CpGs annotated to GGT and longitudinal measurements of BMI z-scores were investigated with adjusted linear mixed models.
RESULTS: The geometric means of placental MeP, EtP, PrP, and BuP levels above the limit of detection (LOD) were 4.42, 1.32, 1.51, and 0.35 ng/g respectively, with only EtP showing sufficient (88%) measurements above LOD for further analyses. An interquartile ratio (IQR) increase in placental EtP was associated with an increase of 12.61 % (95% CI: 1.80 24.57) in the geometric mean of cord GGT activity, and with a decrease of -3.64 % (95% CI: -6.80 to -0.39) in the geometric mean of cord glucose. Placental EtP levels were significantly associated with hypermethylation of cg08612779 annotated to GGT7 after correcting for multiple testing (ß = 0.0017, p = 0.049). An interquartile ratio (IQR) increment in placental EtP was associated with a decrease in longitudinal BMI z-score of 0.27 points (95% CI: -0.46 to -0.088).
CONCLUSION: Prenatal EtP exposure may affect early childhood BMI. The association of placental EtP with cord blood GGT and glucose levels provides a starting point for further research on mechanisms of paraben-related metabolic processes in utero.