Sex-specific associations between co-exposure to multiple metals and externalizing symptoms in adolescence and young adulthood

Kristie Oluyemi, Elza Rechtman, Azzurra Invernizzi, Chris Gennings, Stefano Renzetti, Alessandra Patrono, Giuseppa Cagna, Abraham Reichenberg, Donald R. Smith, Roberto G. Lucchini, Robert O. Wright, Donatella Placidi, Megan K. Horton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Externalizing disorders, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), account for the majority of the child/adolescent referrals to mental health services and increase risk for later-life psychopathology. Although the expression of externalizing disorders is more common among males, few studies have addressed how sex modifies associations between metal exposure and adolescent externalizing symptoms. This study aimed to examine sex-specific associations between co-exposure to multiple metals and externalizing symptoms in adolescence and young adulthood. Among 150 adolescents and young adults (55% female, ages: 15–25 years) enrolled in the Public Health Impact of Metals Exposure (PHIME) study in Brescia, Italy, we measured five metals (manganese (Mn), lead (Pb), copper (Cu), chromium (Cr), nickel (Ni)) in four biological matrices (blood, urine, hair, and saliva). Externalizing symptoms were assessed using the Achenbach System of Empirically Based Assessment (ASEBA) Youth Self-Report (YSR) or Adult Self Report (ASR). Using generalized weighted quantile sum (WQS) regression, we investigated the moderating effect of sex (i.e., assigned at birth) on associations between the joint effect of exposure to the metal mixture and externalizing symptoms, adjusting for age and socioeconomic status. We observed that metal mixture exposure was differentially associated with aggressive behavior in males compared to females (β = −0.058, 95% CI [-0.126, −0.009]). In males, exposure was significantly associated with more externalizing problems, and aggressive and intrusive behaviors, driven by Pb, Cu and Cr. In females, exposure was not significantly associated with any externalizing symptoms. These findings suggest that the effect of metal exposure on externalizing symptoms differs in magnitude between the sexes, with males being more vulnerable to increased externalizing symptoms following metal exposure. Furthermore, our findings support the hypothesis that sex-specific vulnerabilities to mixed metal exposure during adolescence/young adulthood may play a role in sex disparities observed in mental health disorders, particularly those characterized by externalizing symptoms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number118443
JournalEnvironmental Research
Volume250
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2024

Keywords

  • Adolescents
  • Externalizing symptoms
  • Metal exposure
  • Mixtures
  • Neurobehavior
  • Sex differences

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