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Member Research and Reports

Berkeley: Prenatal Pesticide Exposure Linked to Changes in Teen’s Brain Activity

Organophosphates are among the most commonly used classes of pesticides in the United States, despite mounting evidence linking prenatal exposure to the chemicals to poorer cognition and behavior problems in children. A new study led by University of California, Berkeley, researchers is one of the first to use advanced brain imaging to reveal how exposure to these chemicals in the womb changes brain activity.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used functional near-infrared imaging (fNIRS) to monitor blood flow in the brains of 95 teenagers born and raised in California’s Salinas Valley, where agricultural spraying of pesticides is common. Compared to their peers, teenagers estimated to have higher levels of prenatal exposure to organophosphates showed altered brain activity while performing tasks that require executive control, the study found. “These results are compelling, because they support what we have seen with our neuropsychological testing, which is that organophosphates impact the brain,” said Dr. Sharon Sagiv, associate adjunct professor of epidemiology at University of California, Berkeley School of Public Health and lead author on the study.

The teenagers were part of the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS), a longitudinal study initiated over 20 years ago to examine the effects of pesticides and other environmental toxins on childhood development. Previous CHAMACOS work has linked prenatal organophosphate exposure with attention problems and lower IQ in children.

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