Women exposed to widely used chemicals while pregnant are more likely to have altered gene function in their placentas, according to a new study.
It is the first study to show that exposure to phenols and phthalates may alter how genes are expressed in the placenta of pregnant women and suggests that such exposures may hamper fetuses’ proper development and growth.
“Altered expression of a gene is of concern because we will have more or less of a protein,” said senior author of the study, Karin Michels, a professor and epidemiologist at the Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, in an emailed response. “Proteins have essential function, for example, as hormones in the body.”
“The placenta is vital for nutrient transport to the fetus, regulation of oxygen, transport of waste out of the fetal compartment … preventing infection.”-Jennifer Adibi, University of Pittsburgh
The researchers tested the urine of 179 women in their first trimester of pregnancy for eight phenols, including widely used bisphenol-A (BPA), and 11 phthalate metabolites, substances formed after the body processes phthalates. Then they tested how certain genes were expressed in the placenta. The women were enrolled in a study cohort at Harvard University.