Executive functions in school children from Montevideo, Uruguay and their associations with concurrent low-level arsenic exposure.Environ Int. 2020 Sep; 142:105883.EI
Arsenic is a known childhood neurotoxicant, but its neurotoxicity at low exposure levels is still not well established. The aim of our cross-sectional study was to test the association between low-level arsenic exposure and executive functions (EF) among children in Montevideo. We also assessed effect modification by arsenic methylation capacity, a susceptibility factor for the health effects of arsenic, and by B-vitamin intake, which impacts arsenic methylation.
Arsenic exposure was assessed as the specific gravity-adjusted sum of urinary arsenic metabolites (U-As) among 255 ~ 7 year-old children, and methylation capacity as the proportion of urinary monomethylarsonic acid (%MMA). Arsenic concentrations from kitchen water samples at participants' homes were assessed. B-vitamin intake was calculated from the average of two 24-hour dietary recalls. EF was measured using three tests from the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery- Stockings of Cambridge (SOC), Intra-dimensional/extra-dimensional shift task (IED), and Spatial Span (SSP). Generalized linear models assessed the association between U-As and EF measures; models were adjusted for age, sex, maternal education, possessions score, Home Observation for Measurement of the Environment Inventory score, season, and school clusters. Additional analyses were conducted to address issues of residual confounding and sample size. A "B-vitamin index" was calculated using principal component analysis. Effect modification by the index and urinary %MMA was assessed in strata split at the respective medians of these variables.
The median (range) U-As and water arsenic levels were 9.9 µg/L (2.2, 47.7) and 0.45 µg/L (0.1, 18.9) respectively, indicating that exposure originated mainly from other sources. U-As was inversely associated with the number of stages completed (β = -0.02; 95% CI: -0.03, -0.002) and pre-executive shift errors (β = -0.08; 95% CI: -0.14, -0.02) of the IED task, and span length of the SSP task (β = -0.01; 95% CI: -0.02, -0.004). There was no clear pattern of effect modification by B-vitamin intake or urinary %MMA.
Low-level arsenic exposure may adversely affect executive function among children but additional, including longitudinal, studies are necessary to confirm these findings.