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Keywords:

  • ionizing radiation;
  • nondisjunction;
  • maternal meiosis;
  • trend analysis

Abstract

The objective of this study is to investigate the prevalence of Down syndrome (DS) associated with Chernobyl fallout. Maternal age-adjusted DS data and corresponding live birth data from the following seven European countries or regions were analyzed: Bavaria and West Berlin in Germany, Belarus, Hungary, the Lothian Region of Scotland, North West England, and Sweden from 1981 to 1992. To assess the underlying time trends in the DS occurrence, and to investigate whether there have been significant changes in the trend functions after Chernobyl, we applied logistic regression allowing for peaks and jumps from January 1987 onward. The majority of the trisomy 21 cases of the previously reported, highly significant January 1987 clusters in Belarus and West Berlin were conceived when the radioactive clouds with significant amounts of radionuclides with short physical half-lives, especially 131iodine, passed over these regions. Apart from this, we also observed a significant longer lasting effect in both areas. Moreover, evidence for long-term changes in the DS prevalence in several other European regions is presented and explained by exposure, especially to 137Cs. In many areas, 137Cs uptake reached its maximum one year after the Chernobyl accident. Thus, the highest increase in trisomy 21 should be observed in 1987/1988, which is indeed the case. Based on the fact that maternal meiosis is an error prone process, the assumption of a causal relationship between low-dose irradiation and nondisjunction is the most likely explanation for the observed increase in DS after the Chernobyl reactor accident. Genet. Epidemiol. 36 : 48–55, 2012. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.