Chromosomal aberrations in cord blood are associated with prenatal exposure to carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

Molecular and traditional epidemiology studies have indicated a possible relationship between in utero environmental exposures and increased risk for childhood cancers, especially acute leukemias. Chromosomal aberrations have been associated with environmental exposures and cancer risk in adults. In order to more clearly define the association between prenatal exposures to carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) and chromosomal aberrations, chromosomal aberration frequencies were measured in a subset of 60 newborns from the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (CCCEH) Prospective Cohort Study. The subset was composed of African American and Dominican, nonsmoking mother-newborn pairs residing in low-income neighborhoods of New York City, who were exposed to varying levels of airborne PAHs. Prenatal exposure was assessed by questionnaire, personal air monitoring during the third trimester, and PAH-DNA adducts in umbilical cord blood. Chromosomal aberrations were measured in cord blood lymphocytes by fluorescence in situ hybridization. PAH-DNA adducts were not associated with chromosomal aberrations. However, airborne PAHs were significantly associated with stable aberration frequencies in cord blood (P < 0.01). Moreover, stable aberration frequencies were significantly higher among African American newborns compared with Dominican, despite no significant differences in PAH exposure. These results show for the first time an association between prenatal exposure to airborne carcinogenic PAHs and chromosomal aberrations in cord blood, suggesting that such prenatal exposures have the potential to cause cytogenetic damage that has been related to increased cancer risk in other populations. If confirmed, this finding may open new avenues for prevention.

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