Impaired fetal development is associated with a number of adult chronic diseases and it is believed that these associations arise as a result of the phenomenon of prenatal programming, which involves persisting changes in structure and function of various body organs caused by ambient factors during critical and vulnerable periods of early
development. The main goal of the study was to assess the association between lung function in early childhood and prenatal exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5), which represents a wide range of chemical compounds potentially hazardous for fetal development. Among pregnant women recruited prenatally to the study, personal measurements of PM2.5 were performed over 48 h in the second trimester of pregnancy. After delivery, infants were followed for 5 years; the interviewers visited participants in their homes to record children’s respiratory symptoms every 3 months in the child’s first 2 years of life and every 6 months thereafter. In the fifth year of the follow-up, children were invited for standard lung function testing of levels of forced vital capacity (FVC), forced expiratory volume in 1 s (FEV1) and forced expiratory volume in 0.5 s (FEV0.5).
There were 176 children of non-smoking mothers, who performed at least two acceptable spirometry measurements. Multivariable linear regression showed a significant deficit of FVC at the highest quartile of PM2.5 exposure (beta coefficient = -91.9, P = 0.008), after adjustment for covariates (age, gender, birthweight, height and wheezing).
Also FEV1 level in children was inversely correlated with prenatal exposure to PM2.5, and the average FEV1 deficit amounted to 87.7 mL (P = 0.008) at the higher level of exposure. Although the effect of PM2.5 exposure on FEV0.5 was proportionally weaker (-72.7, P = 0.026), it was also statistically significant. The lung function level was inversely and significantly associated with the wheezing recorded over the follow-up. The findings showed that significant lung function deficits in early childhood are associated with prenatal exposure to fine particulate matter, which may affect fetal lung growth.