Megan Horton, PhD
Timothy S. Paul
A new study is the first to find a difference between how boys and girls respond to prenatal exposure to the insecticide chlorpyrifos. Researchers at the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) at the Mailman School of Public Health found that, at age 7, boys had greater difficulty with working memory, a key component of IQ, than girls with similar exposures. On the plus side, having nurturing parents improved working memory, especially in boys, although it did not lessen the negative cognitive effects of exposure to the chemical.
Results are published online in the journal Neurotoxicology and Teratology.
In 2011, research led by Virginia Rauh, ScD, Co-Deputy Director of CCCEH, established a connection between prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos and deficits in working memory and IQ at age 7. Earlier this year, a follow-up study showed evidence in MRI scans that even low to moderate levels of exposure during pregnancy may lead to long-term, potentially irreversible changes in the brain. The latest study, led by Megan Horton, PhD, explored the impact of sex differences and the home environment on these health outcomes.
Dr. Horton and colleagues looked at a subset of 335 mother-child pairs enrolled in the ongoing inner-city study of environmental exposures, including measures of prenatal chlorpyrifos in umbilical cord blood. When the children reached age 3, the researchers measured the home environment using the Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment (HOME) criteria, including two main categories: 1) environmental stimulation, defined as the availability of intellectually stimulating materials in the home and the mother’s encouragement of learning; and 2) parental nurturance, defined as attentiveness, displays of physical affection, encouragement of d