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Maternal hair metabolites affect child’s neurocognitive development

Tristan Manalac
12 May 2018

The metabolic state of the mother before and during pregnancy may have important impact on the infant’s neurodevelopment, a recent Singapore study has found.

Metabolites in the maternal hair metabolome were significantly correlated with the child’s score in the expressive language subscale of the Bayley III Scales of Infant Development (BSID-III; 17 percent of p values <0.05). No such interaction was observed for the cognitive, receptive language, fine motor and gross motor subscales. [Sci Rep 2018;8:6745]

Specifically, expressive language showed significant positive associations with adipic acid (p=0.014), stearic acid (p=0.016), nonanoic acid (p=0.017), salicylic acid (p=0.022) and decanoic acid (p=0.026).

In comparison, significantly negative correlations were observed with the following metabolites: p-tert-Butylbenzoic acid (p=0.009), dipicolinic acid (p=0.016), homoalanine (p=0.019), phthalic acid (p=0.022), methionine (p=0.024) and alpha-ketobutyric acid (p=0.026).

“The raw expressive language scores from BSID-III have more and stronger associations with maternal hair metabolites than would be expected by chance, after adjusting for ethnicity, maternal education, exact infant age and sex,” said researchers.

“We note that we are examining ordinary variation in these scores, rather than disordered neurodevelopment,” they added, noting that further studies are needed to establish and characterize the link between maternal hair metabolites and the neurocognitive development of children.

Phthalic acid is an endocrine disruptor and has been shown, in many prior reports, to be associated with different cognitive disorders, impaired motor development and developmental delay, according to researchers. This may have contributed to the negative association observed in the present study. [Environmental Research 2015;142:51-60; Neurotoxicology 2009;30:522-528; Environmental Health 2015;14:56]

In contrast, no such clear potential mechanisms have been identified for adipic acid, except that it is correlated with nonanoic and decanoic acid, which have both been shown to be effective for seizure control. [Neuropharmacology 2013;69:105-114]

“The association of … nonanoic and decanoic acid with higher expressive language scores poses an interesting question about whether these fatty acids have a role supporting optimal neurodevelopment,” researchers noted.

For the study, researchers recruited 373 infant-mother dyads from the Growing Up in Singapore Towards Healthy Outcomes cohort. Gas chromatography-mass spectrometry was used to analyse the maternal hair metabolome, while the BSID-III questionnaire was used to evaluate the child’s neurocognitive development.

In the case of expressive language, where there was an excess of significant metabolites, researchers performed multivariate regression and receiver operator curve analysis to assess the ability of metabolites and other participant characteristics to predict BSID-III score.

They found that the final model, including sex of the child, maternal education, ethnicity, adipic acid, phthalic acid and an unidentified metabolite, was a slightly better predictor of expressive language than demographic variables alone (area under the curve, 0.71 vs 0.67).

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