Altered cord blood mitochondrial DNA content and pregnancy lead exposure in the PROGRESS cohort

Marco Sanchez-Guerra, Cheng Peng, Letizia Trevisi, Andres Cardenas, Ander Wilson, Citlalli Osorio-Yáñez, Megan M. Niedzwiecki, Jia Zhong, Katherine Svensson, Maria Teresa Acevedo, Maritsa Solano-Gonzalez, Chitra J. Amarasiriwardena, Guadalupe Estrada-Gutierrez, Kasey J.M. Brennan, Lourdes Schnaas, Allan C. Just, Hannah E. Laue, Rosalind J. Wright, Martha Maria Téllez-Rojo, Robert O. WrightAndrea A. Baccarelli

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Scopus citations


Introduction: Lead (Pb) crosses the placenta and can cause oxidative stress, reduced fetal growth and neurological problems. The principal source of oxidative stress in human cells is mitochondria. Therefore, disruption of normal mitochondrial function during pregnancy may represent a primary mechanism behind the adverse effects of lead. We sought to assess the association of Pb exposure during pregnancy with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) content, a sensitive marker of mitochondrial function, in cord blood. Materials and methods: This study comprised mother-infant pairs from the Programming Research in Obesity, Growth, Environment and Social Stressors (PROGRESS) study, a prospective birth-cohort that enrolled 1050 pregnant women from Mexico City who were receiving prenatal care between December 2007 and July 2011. Quantitative PCR was used to calculate relative MtDNA content (mitochondrial-to-nuclear DNA ratio (mtDNA/nDNA)) in cord blood. Lead concentrations in both maternal blood (2nd and 3rd trimester and at delivery day) and in cord blood were measured by ICP-MS. Multivariable regression models adjusting for multiple confounders were fitted with 410 mother-infant pairs for whom complete data for mtDNA content, lead levels, and covariates were available. Results: Maternal blood Pb measured in the second (mean 3.79 μg/dL, SD 2.63; β = 0.059, 95% CI 0.008, 0.111) and third trimester (mean 3.90 μg/dL; SD 2.84; β = 0.054, 95% CI 0.002, 0.107) during pregnancy and PB in cord blood (mean 3.50 μg/dL, SD 2.59; β = 0.050, 95% CI 0.004; 0.096) were associated with increased cord blood mtDNA content (mean 1.46, SD 0.44). In two-way interaction analyses, cord blood Pb marginally interacted with gestational age leading to an increase in mtDNA content for pre-term births (Benjamini-Hochberg False Discovery Rate correction; BH-FDR = 0.08). Conclusion: This study shows that lead exposure in pregnancy alters mtDNA content in cord blood; therefore, alteration of mtDNA content might be a mechanism underlying the toxicity of lead.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)437-444
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironment international
StatePublished - Apr 2019


  • Cord blood
  • Lead exposure
  • Mitochondrial dysfunction
  • Pregnancy
  • mtDNA content


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