Metal exposures are common as are their pernicious effects on human health. Of greater concern are their actions on the vulnerable developing fetus. However, even though the placenta is available from every delivery, few are routinely evaluated. Therefore, we continue to lack sufficient information regarding the mechanisms by which prenatal metals exposures harm the fetus, key steps along the path towards early identification of the at-risk fetus, and intervention to optimize childhood and lifelong wellbeing. There is growing evidence that the intrauterine environment impacts placental development and function to ultimately influence the risk of obesity in offspring. Childhood overweight and obesity are common and important predictors of morbidity and mortality across the life course. The goal is to determine, in a unique, established cohort in which all-placentas were studied and have placental tissue archived, how placental health and function are affected by metal exposures, and the pathways that lead from metals exposures and placental toxicity to altered infant somatic growth and metabolism. Finally, the clinical results will be validated with in vitro explant studies of human placentas, in which metals exposures can be tested for induction of placental cell specific responses. Starting with cutting edge methods that identify, quantitate and localize to specific cell types metals that accumulate in the placenta across gestation, we will use archived placental tissues further to identify placental pathology (including cell proliferation, apoptosis, inflammation and endothelial or macrophage activation) by traditional histologic and immunohistochemical methods, pairing slide digitization and automated custom software algorithms that register serial digitized placental tissue slides to match placental lesions to the presence, quantity and type of metals. Together with maternal, gestational and neonatal data extracted from the electronic medical record, we will move to analyses of newborn dried blood spots collected and archived as part of the Newborn Screening Program of New York State to test for serum markers of inflammation that may result from metals exposures and placental toxicity, and a metabolic profile that we will correlate with placental size, newborn size, and serial child weight for length centiles and growth trajectory to 12 months of age. Lastly our large sample size of 2000 mother-child-placenta triads will allow us to explore sex-dependent effects of metals toxicity in the placenta and in the child. The methods in this proposal provide unprecedented interrogation of the placenta?s role in fetal pathophysiology of metals toxicity, and the development of obesity at age 1 year, a strong predictor of other health risks including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Public Health Relevance

There is growing evidence that the environment impacts placental development and function to ultimately influence the offspring?s health across the life course. This proposal will examine whether prenatal exposure to metals impacts placental size and function and ultimately offspring risk of overweight and obesity in a unique cohort for which all placentas were assessed and archived. In addition, potential mechanisms of action will be validated with in vitro explant studies of human placentas which will set the stage for development of interventions designed to prevent overweight and obesity across the life course.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZES1)
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Schug, Thaddeus
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Institute for Basic Research in Dev Disabil
Staten Island
United States
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