Potential risk of asthma associated with in utero exposure to xenobiotics


Correspondence to: MaryJane K. Selgrade, ICF International, 2222 NC-54 Hwy, Durham, NC 27713. E-mail: mselgrade@icfi.com


The incidence of asthma, a complex disease and significant public health problem, has been increasing over the last 30 years for unknown reasons. Changes in environmental exposures or lifestyle may be involved. In some cases asthma may originate in utero or in early life. Associations have been found between in utero exposures to several xenobiotics and increased risk of asthma. There is convincing evidence that maternal smoking and/or in utero and perinatal exposure to environmental tobacco smoke are associated with increased risk of asthma. Similar effects have been demonstrated in animal models of allergic asthma. Evidence also suggests that in utero and/or early-life exposures to various ambient air pollutants may increase the risk of asthma although supporting animal data are very limited. A few studies have suggested that in utero exposure to acetaminophen is associated with increased risk of asthma; however, animal data are lacking. Various vitamin deficiencies and supplements during pregnancy have been studied. In general, it appears that vitamins A, C, and E have protective effects and vitamins D and B may, in some instances, increase the risk, but the data are not conclusive. Some studies related to in utero exposures to polychlorinated biphenyls and bisphenol A and asthma risk are also reported. The underlying mechanisms for an association between xenobiotic exposures and asthma remain a matter of speculation. Genetic predisposition and epigenetic changes have been explored. The developing immune, respiratory, and nervous systems are potential targets. Oxidative stress and modulation of inflammation are thought to be involved. Birth Defects Research (Part C) 99:1–13, 2013. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.