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Title:Impact of prenatal maternal stress on infant cognition and modifications of effects by exposure to phthalates
Author(s):Merced-Nieves, Francheska Marie
Director of Research:Schantz, Susan L
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Schantz, Susan L
Doctoral Committee Member(s):Baillargeon, Renee L; Uddin, Monica; Raetzman, Lori T
Department / Program:Neuroscience Program
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Cognitive Development
Environmental Health
Abstract:Recent literature has shown that maternal exposures to both chemical and non-chemical stressors during gestation are risk factors for adverse neurodevelopment. However, there is little evidence on the impact of these, individually or in combination, on cognitive development during the first year of life. Maternal prenatal stress is highly prevalent in the US, with up to 25% of women experiencing clinically relevant symptoms during pregnancy and/or postpartum. Phthalates are endocrine disruptors that are found in a wide range of consumer products including personal care products, children’s toys, and food packaging. In an effort to characterize the effects of these stressors on more specific aspects of cognition and obtain results earlier in life that has been done in most previous studies, this dissertation used innovative measures adapted from developmental psychology to assess basic building blocks of cognition in infancy. These include physical reasoning, working memory, attention, and information processing speed. Chapter 3 presents a general profile of the Illinois Kids Development Study (IKIDS) cohort, within which this study took place. IKIDS is a large prospective cohort study of mothers and their infants that consists of mostly white non-Hispanic (80%), college educated (70%) women with household income greater than $60,000, which is reflective of the Champaign-Urbana area. Chapter 4 examines the association between prenatal maternal perceived stress and a sexually dimorphic physical reasoning task at 4.5 months of age. The results suggest that maternal perceived stress is associated with poorer physical reasoning in girls. Chapter 5 examines the associations of other maternal stress measures (stressful life events, and maternal and cord blood telomere length), and phthalate exposure individually with physical reasoning, and also the potential for cumulative effects of stress and phthalates (MEP, DEHP, DINP, anti-androgenic sum, and sum of all phthalates) on physical reasoning. The results revealed a significant association of maternal telomere length with performance on the physical reasoning task in girls. That is longer telomere length was associated with girls looking longer at the impossible than the possible event. There were no significant associations of stressful life events or cord blood telomere length with physical reasoning. When evaluating the effects of prenatal exposure to phthalates significant associations were found between DEHP at 16-18 weeks of gestation and difference in looking time in girls, between DINP, both at 16-18 weeks and in a pooled sample representing average exposure across pregnancy, and difference in looking time in boys; between Anti-Androgenic sum in the pooled sample and difference in looking time in boys; and between the sum of all phthalates at 16-18 weeks of gestation and difference in looking time in boys. In all cases, higher prenatal exposure to phthalates was associated with boys looking longer at the possible than the impossible event. There was little indication of interactive effects between maternal stress and prenatal phthalate exposure. However, there was an interaction between prenatal maternal perceived stress and DINP in girls. Girls whose mothers were in the medium stress group and had higher exposure to DINP had a greater difference in looking time (looked longer at the impossible than the possible event). Chapter 6 examined the association between prenatal maternal stress alone and cumulative effects of maternal stress and phthalate exposure with several measures of cognition measured at 7.5 months of age. Results showed significant associations between higher perceived stress and decreased novelty preference (a measure of recognition memory) in boys only; shorter visual fixations, which may indicate faster information processing speed, in girls only; and longer trial durations, which suggests a detriment in visual attention, in boys and girls. Stressful life event models showed significant associations with greater novelty preference, shorter visual fixations times, and longer trial durations, again suggesting a detriment in visual attention. Maternal telomere length models showed significant associations of shorter maternal telomere length with greater novelty preference in girls only, and shorter visual fixation times, and longer trial durations in both boys and girls. Cord blood telomere length did not appear to be a good predictor of cognitive outcomes in infants. In addition, in analyses to explore potential cumulative effects of stress and phthalate exposure on trial duration, there were significant interactions between stress and prenatal exposure to DINP. These results are important as they not only add to the body of evidence that prenatal maternal stress can have a negative impact on cognitive development, they also illustrate that several different measures of stress including perceived stress, actual experience of stressful life events and a biological measure of long-term chronic stress all predict cognitive outcomes infants. In particular, all of these measures predicted longer trial durations, suggesting that maternal stress is associated with detriments in visual attention. The results also reveal that an impact of maternal stress on cognition can be measured as early as 4 months of age and confirm earlier reports that there are sex differences in response to maternal stress. Furthermore, the results presented here add to the growing body of evidence that environmental factors may interact in complex ways to influence cognitive development. Future studies should consider these potential interactions when assessing its effects on neurodevelopment.
Issue Date:2019-12-03
Rights Information:Copyright 2019 FRANCHESKA MARIE MERCED-NIEVES
Date Available in IDEALS:2020-03-02
Date Deposited:2019-12

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