BACKGROUND: The autonomic nervous system plays a key role in maintaining homeostasis and responding to external stimuli. In adults, exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) has been associated with reduced heart rate variability (HRV), an indicator of cardiac autonomic control. OBJECTIVES: Our goal was to investigate the associations of exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) with HRV as an indicator of cardiac autonomic control during early development. METHODS: We studied 237 maternal-infant pairs in a Boston-based birth cohort. We estimated daily residential PM2.5 using satellite data in combination with land-use regression predictors. In infants at 6 months of age, we measured parasympathetic nervous system (PNS) activity using continuous electrocardiogram monitoring during the Repeated Still-Face Paradigm, an experimental protocol designed to elicit autonomic reactivity in response to maternal interaction and disengagement. We used multivariable linear regression to examine average PM2.5 exposure across pregnancy in relation to PNS withdrawal and activation, indexed by changes in respiration-corrected respiratory sinus arrhythmia (RSAc)-an established metric of HRV that reflects cardiac vagal tone. We examined interactions with infant sex using cross-product terms. RESULTS: In adjusted models we found that a 1-unit increase in PM2.5 (in micrograms per cubic meter) was associated with a 3.53% decrease in baseline RSAc (95% CI: -6:96, 0.02). In models examining RSAc change between episodes, higher PM2.5 was generally associated with reduced PNS withdrawal during stress and reduced PNS activation during recovery; however, these associations were not statistically significant. We did not observe a significant interaction between PM2.5 and sex. DISCUSSION: Prenatal exposure to PM2.5 may disrupt cardiac vagal tone during infancy. Future research is needed to replicate these preliminary findings.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107007
JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2019


Dive into the research topics of 'Prenatal exposure to PM2.5 and cardiac vagal tone during infancy: Findings from a multiethnic birth cohort'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this