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  • Prenatal exposure to toxicants and childhood neurodevelopmental disorders and cognitive functions (NeuroTox)


Prenatal exposure to toxicants and childhood neurodevelopmental disorders and cognitive functions (NeuroTox) - project description


Environmental chemicals may affect child development already in the womb. However, empirical knowledge regarding adverse effects of toxicants on brain development and cognitive functions, or as risk for neurological or neurodevelopmental disorders in children is limited, yet of great public health importance.

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These disorders have a significant adverse impact on the child and its family, as well as society. Thus, the identification of preventable risk factors such as hazardous substances in the environment should be prioritised.

In this research project, we will investigate if maternal blood levels of perfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs, e.g. PFOS) and different metals (e.g. mercury, lead, and arsenic) during pregnancy have negative effects on neurodevelopment in children. These environmental contaminants are known, or are suspected, to interfere with brain development. We will also investigate if mixtures of these compounds are more toxic in combination than the single compounds.

We will use data from the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study (MoBa), including questionnaire data, biological samples from mother and child, clinical examinations of the child (testing of cognitive skills and assessment of psychiatric symptoms), as well as diagnoses of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorders (ASD), cerebral palsy, and epilepsy identified through linkage to the Norwegian Patient Registry.

We will also incorporate data on newborn thyroid hormone levels from the national newborn screening programme to investigate thyroid disruption, as well as measure newborn DNA methylation, as possible toxic mechanisms.

This unique combination of data and large sample sizes will enable us to test the hypotheses that variations in exposure levels to contaminants and their mixtures can alter normal foetal brain development, even at low levels of exposure, and become risk factors for these disorders or affect cognitive functions and behaviour in children.

Project number







January 2017


December 2019




Research Council of Norway

Project owner/ Project manager

Norwegian Institute of Public Health

Project manager

Heidi Aase