Oulhote Y, Lanphear B, Braun JM, Webster GM, Arbuckle TE, Etzel T, Forget-Dubois N, Seguin JR, Bouchard MF, MacFarlane A, Ouellet E, Fraser W, Muckle G (2020) Environ Health Perspect. 2020 Feb;128(2): 27004. doi: 10.1289/EHP5621. Epub 2020 Feb 19.
The etiology of autism spectrum disorder is poorly understood. Few studies have investigated the link between endocrine-disrupting chemicals and autistic traits. We examined the relationship between gestational phthalates and autistic traits in 3- to 4-y-old Canadian children. We also investigated potential effect modification by sex and folic acid supplementation.
We enrolled 2,001 women>18 years of age during the first trimester of pregnancy between 2008 and 2011 from 10 cities in Canada. At 3-4 years of age, 610 children underwent neuropsychological assessments including the Social Responsiveness Scale-II (SRS-2) as a measure of autistic traits and social impairment. We measured 11 phthalate metabolites in maternal first trimester urine samples and assessed folic acid supplementation from reported intakes. We estimated covariate-adjusted differences in SRS-2 T-scores with a doubling in phthalate concentrations in 510 children with complete data.
Mean total SRS T-score was 45.3 (SD=6.1). Children with higher gestational exposure to mono-n-butyl (MBP) and mono-3-carboxypropyl (MCPP) concentrations exhibited significantly higher total SRS T-scores, indicating greater overall social impairment, as well as higher scores on subdomains, indicating deficits in social cognition, social communication, social motivation, and restricted interests/repetitive behaviors. A doubling in MBP or MCPP concentrations was associated with 0.6 (95% CI: 0.1, 1.0) and 0.5 (95% CI: 0.1, 0.8) higher total SRS T-scores. Associations were consistently and significantly stronger in boys (βMBP=1.0; 95% CI: 0.4, 1.6; n=252) compared with girls (βMBP=0.1; 95% CI: −0.6, 0.7; n=258) and among children who had lower prenatal folic acid supplementation (<400μg/d) (βMBP=1.3; 95% CI: 0.4, 2.3; n=59) compared with those who had adequate folic acid supplementation (≥400μg/d) (βMBP=0.4; 95% CI: −0.1, 0.8; n=451).
Higher gestational concentrations of some phthalate metabolites were associated with higher scores of autistic traits as measured by the SRS-2 in boys, but not girls; these small size effects were mitigated by first trimester-of-pregnancy folic acid supplementation