Sci Total Environ. 2022 Sep 13;854:158773. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2022.158773. Online ahead of print.
Phthalates are ubiquitous environmental exposures that may be implicated in inflammatory processes, as demonstrated by previous in vivo and in vitro studies. Few human studies have substantiated these observations. This study sought to examine whether maternal phthalate exposures impact inflammatory processes, as measured by circulating inflammatory biomarkers, in the PROTECT cohort in northern Puerto Rico. Inflammatory biomarkers included matrix metalloproteinases 1, 2, and 9 (MMPs), C-reactive protein (CRP), vascular cell adhesion molecule-1 (VCAM), and intercellular cell adhesion molecule-1 (ICAM). Biomarkers were measured in maternal serum samples collected during pregnancy. 19 phthalate metabolites were assessed in urinary samples collected at three study visits across pregnancy. Phthalates with <50 % of measurements above the limit of detection were excluded from analysis. We utilized linear mixed effect models to estimate associations between interquartile range increases in phthalate metabolite concentrations and percent changes in inflammatory biomarkers. Our results revealed significant associations between mono-n-butyl phthalate (MBP) and higher MMP1 by 7.86 % (95 % CI: 0.49, 15.76) and between mono oxononyl phthalate (MONP) and higher MMP2 by 8.30 % (95 % CI: 2.22, 14.75). We observed negative or null associations between phthalate metabolites and MMP2, MMP9, ICAM, VCAM, and CRP. Many results were significantly modified by fetal sex, particularly those between di-2-ethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) metabolites and MMP1 (p-interaction: MEHHP = 0.01, MEOHP = 0.04, MECPP = 0.01) and MMP2 (p-interaction: MEHHP = 0.03, MEOHP = 0.01, MECPP = 0.01), for which associations were positive among only women carrying female fetuses. MMPs have been previously associated with preeclampsia and hypertensive pregnancy disorders as mediators of artery remodeling. Hence, our findings suggest a potential role for phthalates in mediating the maternal inflammatory response, as well as significant sexual dimorphism in these relationships, which has implications for several adverse pregnancy outcomes.