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Your Environment. Your Health.

Northeastern University

Superfund Research Program

Pollutant activation of cell pathways in gestational tissues

Project Leader: Rita Loch-Caruso (University of Michigan)
Grant Number: P42ES017198
Funding Period: 2010-2024

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Project Summary (2010-2014)

The long-term objective of Dr. Loch-Caruso’s research is to reduce adverse birth outcomes such as preterm birth. Reducing preterm births to 7.6% is a Healthy People 2010 objective, yet preterm births continue to rise and accounted for 12.8% of live births in 2005. Unfortunately, the etiology of preterm birth, intrauterine growth restriction, and other adverse birth outcomes are poorly understood, though critical roles for infection, inflammation and oxidative stress are implicated. Limited studies relate adverse birth outcomes with exposure to Superfund-relevant toxicants. A critical knowledge gap that has been identified is the lack of information on biological explanations that link environmental pollutant exposures with preterm birth and other adverse birth outcomes. Dr. Loch-Caruso hypothesizes that Superfund-related contaminants activate reactive oxygen species-sensitive pathways in gestational tissues to promote onset of parturition and thereby increase risk for preterm birth. This hypothesis is based on the following information:

  1. Phthalates, trichloroethylene, and many other pollutants stimulate generation of reactive oxygen species in mammalian cells;
  2. Reactive oxygen species can initiate apoptosis through DNA damage, non-apoptotic cell death through membrane lipid oxidation, and cytokine and prostaglandin (PG) synthesis through effects on gene transcription;
  3. cell death and inflammation of the placenta and gestational membranes are associated with preterm birth, intrauterine growth restriction and other adverse birth outcomes; and
  4. The prostaglandins PGE2 and PGF2alpha are critical mediators of parturition.

The proposed research provides the first experimental data to support mechanisms by which environmental pollutant exposures increase women’s risk for preterm births and other adverse birth outcomes. By demonstrating that a common toxicological effect, oxidative stress, activates pathways associated with parturition, these data provides evidence for a plausible biological explanation for environmental pollutant exposure associations with preterm birth.

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