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University of Kentucky

Superfund Research Program

Postnatal Complications of Perinatal Polychlorinated Biphenyl Exposure

Project Leader: Kevin J. Pearson
Grant Number: P42ES007380
Funding Period: 2014-2020
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Project Summary (2014-2020)

Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), one of a number of chlorinated organic pollutants, are highly lipid-soluble toxins that are characterized by relative chemical stability and prevalence in the environment. These traits are responsible for their widely recognized role as a source of serious environmental public health risks. PCBs have been shown to cross the placenta and enter breast milk, and a recent paper suggests that prenatal organochlorine levels contribute to gender-specific obesity development in children. In a mouse model, additional observations revealed that offspring exposed perinatally to PCB 126, a coplanar PCB that acts through the aryl hydrocarbon receptor, had significantly worse fat and lean mass profiles compared to offspring born to vehicle-treated dams. Further, mature offspring born to PCB-exposed dams had impaired glucose tolerance compared to offspring from vehicle-treated dams.

The principal investigator’s group has shown that short-term maternal voluntary exercise prior to and during healthy pregnancy and nursing can enhance long term glucose homeostasis in offspring. The goal of the proposed research is to elucidate the potential long term health complications and mechanisms of PCB toxicity during the critical periods of in utero and early postnatal life and to explore maternal exercise as a transgenerational intervention.

Specific Aim 1 establishes the importance of the timing of perinatal PCB exposure (unexposed/in utero exposure/postnatal exposure/in utero + postnatal exposure) that precipitates impaired glucose tolerance in offspring. A subset of offspring will be fed a high fat diet to determine whether a ‘second hit’ will exacerbate the PCB-induced detriments. Specific Aim 2 elucidates the mechanism of impaired glucose tolerance in offspring born to PCB-exposed dams. Specific Aim 3 tests if voluntary maternal exercise can be used as an intervention to protect adult offspring from the long-term effects of perinatal PCB exposure.

The ongoing studies will provide new etiological evidence supporting current observations that perinatal exposures to environmental PCBs are important contributors to the epidemic of diabetes in the United States. This work will also contribute innovative new insights to understanding the role of exercise in mitigating the environmental health impacts of PCB exposure by highlighting pregnancy as a sensitive period when environmental pollutants could have significant and long lasting effects on offspring metabolism and when interventions could prove effective in ameliorating the detrimental health outcomes. Anticipated results are particularly significant in that they highlight early developmental stages, i.e., fetal and neonatal, as potential periods of particular vulnerability to lasting effects of toxic environmental insult from PCB contamination.

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