Background: Exposure to low-dose toxic metals in the environment is ubiquitous. Several murine studies have shown metals induce anxiety-like behaviors, and mechanistic research supports that metals disrupt neurotransmitter signaling systems implicated in the pathophysiology of anxiety. In this study, we extend prior research by examining joint exposure to six metals in relation to maternal anxiety symptoms during pregnancy. Methods: The sample includes 380 participants enrolled in the PRogramming of Intergenerational Stress Mechanisms (PRISM) pregnancy cohort. Spot urine was collected during pregnancy (mean ± standard deviation: 31.1 ± 6.1 weeks), and concentrations of six metals (barium [Ba], cadmium [Cd], chromium [Cr], cesium [Cs], lead [Pb], antimony [Sb]) were measured by Inductively Coupled Plasma – Mass Spectrometry. Trait anxiety symptoms were measured during pregnancy using a short version of the Spielberger State Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI-T) and information on covariates was collected by questionnaire. We used weighted quantile sum (WQS) regression as the primary modeling approach to examine metals, treated as a mixture, in relation to higher (≥20) vs. lower anxiety symptoms while adjusting for urinary creatinine and key sociodemographic variables. Results: The sample is socioeconomically and racially/ethnically diverse. Urinary metal concentrations were log-normally distributed and 25% of the sample had an STAI-T score ≥20. Joint exposure to metals was associated with elevated anxiety symptoms (ORWQS = 1.56, 95% CI: 1.24, 1.96); Cd (61.8%), Cr (14.7%), and Cs (12.7%) contributed the greatest weight to the mixture effect. Conclusion: Exposure to metals in the environment may be associated with anxiety symptoms during pregnancy. This is a public health concern, as anxiety disorders are highly prevalent and associated with significant co-morbidities, especially during pregnancy when both the mother and developing fetus are susceptible to adverse health outcomes.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112276
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • Anxiety
  • Cadmium
  • Metal mixtures
  • Pregnancy
  • Weighted quantile sum


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