Maternal serum metabolome and traffic-related air pollution exposure in pregnancy

Qi Yan, Zeyan Liew, Karan Uppal, Xin Cui, Chenxiao Ling, Julia E. Heck, Ondine S. von Ehrenstein, Jun Wu, Douglas I. Walker, Dean P. Jones, Beate Ritz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Background: Maternal exposure to traffic-related air pollution during pregnancy has been shown to increase the risk of adverse birth outcomes and neurodevelopmental disorders. By utilizing high-resolution metabolomics (HRM), we investigated perturbations of the maternal serum metabolome in response to traffic-related air pollution to identify biological mechanisms. Methods: We retrieved stored mid-pregnancy serum samples from 160 mothers who lived in the Central Valley of California known for high air particulate levels. We estimated prenatal traffic-related air pollution exposure (carbon monoxide, nitric oxides, and particulate matter <2.5 μm) during first-trimester using the California Line Source Dispersion Model, version 4 (CALINE4) based on residential addresses recorded at birth. We used liquid chromatography-high resolution mass spectrometry to obtain untargeted metabolic profiles and partial least squares discriminant analysis (PLS-DA) to select metabolic features associated with air pollution exposure. Pathway analyses were employed to identify biologic pathways related to air pollution exposure. As potential confounders we included maternal age, maternal race/ethnicity, and maternal education. Results: In total we extracted 4038 and 4957 metabolic features from maternal serum samples in hydrophilic interaction (HILIC) chromatography (positive ion mode) and C18 (negative ion mode) columns, respectively. After controlling for confounding factors, PLS-DA (Variable Importance in Projection (VIP) ≥2) yielded 181 and 251 metabolic features (HILIC and C18, respectively) that discriminated between the high (n = 98) and low exposed (n = 62). Pathway enrichment analysis for discriminatory features associated with air pollution indicated that in maternal serum oxidative stress and inflammation related pathways were altered, including linoleate, leukotriene, and prostaglandin pathways. Conclusion: The metabolomic features and pathways we found to be associated with air pollution exposure suggest that maternal exposure during pregnancy induces oxidative stress and inflammation pathways previously implicated in pregnancy complications and adverse outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number104872
JournalEnvironment international
StatePublished - Sep 2019


  • Air pollution
  • Exposome
  • High-resolution metabolomics
  • Inflammation
  • Oxidative stress


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