Exposure to per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances and alterations in plasma microRNA profiles in children

By Yijie Li, Brittney O Baumert, Nikos Stratakis, Jesse A Goodrich, Haotian Wu, Shelley H Liu, Hongxu Wang, Emily Beglarian, Scott M Bartell, Sandrah Proctor Eckel, Douglas Walker, Damaskini Valvi, Michele Andrea La Merrill, Thomas H Inge, Todd Jenkins, Justin R Ryder, Stephanie Sisley, Rohit Kohli, Stavra A Xanthakos, Marina Vafeiadi, Aikaterini Margetaki, Theano Roumeliotaki, Max Aung, Rob McConnell, Andrea Baccarelli, David Conti, and Lida Chatzi
Environ Res
June 25, 2024
DOI: 10.1016/j.envres.2024.119496


Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are synthetic chemicals that persist in the environment and can accumulate in humans, leading to adverse health effects. MicroRNAs (miRNAs) are emerging biomarkers that can advance the understanding of the mechanisms of PFAS effects on human health. However, little is known about the associations between PFAS exposures and miRNA alterations in humans.


To investigate associations between PFAS concentrations and miRNA levels in children.


Data from two distinct cohorts were utilized: 176 participants (average age 16.6 years; 75.6% female) from the Teen-Longitudinal Assessment of Bariatric Surgery (Teen-LABS) cohort in the United States, and 64 participants (average age 6.5 years, 39.1% female) from the Rhea study, a mother-child cohort in Greece. PFAS concentrations and miRNA levels were assessed in plasma samples from both studies. Associations between individual PFAS and plasma miRNA levels were examined after adjusting for covariates. Additionally, the cumulative effects of PFAS mixtures were evaluated using an exposure burden score. Ingenuity Pathways Analysis was employed to identify potential disease functions of PFAS-associated miRNAs.


Plasma PFAS concentrations were associated with alterations in 476 miRNAs in the Teen-LABs study and 13 miRNAs in the Rhea study (FDR p < 0.1). Specifically, plasma PFAS concentrations were consistently associated with decreased levels of miR-148b-3p and miR-29a-3p in both cohorts. Pathway analysis indicated that PFAS-related miRNAs were linked to numerous chronic disease pathways, including cardiovascular diseases, inflammatory conditions, and carcinogenesis.


Through miRNA screenings in two independent cohorts, this study identified both known and novel miRNAs associated with PFAS exposure in children. Pathway analysis revealed the involvement of these miRNAs in several cancer and inflammation-related pathways. Further studies are warranted to enhance our understanding of the relationships between PFAS exposure and disease risks, with miRNA emerging as potential biomarkers and/or mediators in these complex pathways.

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