Environ Res. 2021 May;196:110911. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2021.110911. Epub 2021 Feb 25.
The prevalence of Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) has been increasing. Research suggests that exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals such as phthalates may play a role, but studies of in utero phthalate exposure and ADHD-related symptoms beyond early childhood are limited. We investigated associations between measures of in utero phthalate exposure and ADHD symptoms, such as inattention and impulsivity, in childhood (age 6-11 years, n = 221) and in adolescence (age 9-18 years, n = 200), as well as cross-sectional relationships between phthalate exposure and ADHD symptoms in adolescence (n = 491) among participants in the Early Life Exposure in Mexico to Environmental Toxicants (ELEMENT) cohort. Women provided urine samples up to three times during pregnancy and adolescents provided a urine sample at 9-18 years of age for phthalate metabolite measurement. We administered the Conners’ Continuous Performance Test (CPT) when children were age 6-11 years and again at 9-18 years of age. We used multivariable linear regression to examine associations between the geometric mean of phthalate metabolite levels across pregnancy and CPT scores in childhood or adolescence separately, adjusting for age, years schooling (at 9-18 only), maternal education, and specific gravity. Although average in utero phthalate concentrations were not associated with CPT scores in childhood, interquartile range (IQR) increases of in utero MBzP, MCPP, and MBP were associated with 4.2%, 4.7%, and 4.5% (p < 0.05) higher Omissions scores in adolescence, respectively, indicating higher inattention. In utero MiBP levels were also associated with higher Inter-Stimulus Interval (ISI) and Variability scores (5.4% and 5.5% per IQR, p < 0.05) in adolescence. In addition, urinary DEHP metabolite levels during adolescence were cross-sectionally associated with poorer scores on several CPT indices indicating greater inattention. These findings suggest that in utero phthalate exposure may have adverse effects on attention, but these effects may not appear until adolescence, a period of extensive neurodevelopment. Future research investigating the long-term effects of in utero phthalate exposure on attention and ADHD in adolescence, as well as identification of potential mechanisms involved, is needed.