Air pollution and the fetal origin of disease: A systematic review of the molecular signatures of air pollution exposure in human placenta

Leen Luyten, Nelly D. Saenen, Bram G. Janssen, Karen Vrijens, Michelle Plusquin, Harry A. Roels, Florence Debacq-Chainiaux, Tim S. Nawrot

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Fetal development is a crucial window of susceptibility in which exposure-related alterations can be induced on the molecular level, leading to potential changes in metabolism and development. The placenta serves as a gatekeeper between mother and fetus, and is in contact with environmental stressors throughout pregnancy. This makes the placenta as a temporary organ an informative non-invasive matrix suitable to investigate omics-related aberrations in association with in utero exposures such as ambient air pollution. Objectives: To summarize and discuss the current evidence and define the gaps of knowledge concerning human placental -omics markers in association with prenatal exposure to ambient air pollution. Methods: Two investigators independently searched the PubMed, ScienceDirect, and Scopus databases to identify all studies published until January 2017 with an emphasis on epidemiological research on prenatal exposure to ambient air pollution and the effect on placental -omics signatures. Results: From the initial 386 articles, 25 were retained following an a priori set inclusion and exclusion criteria. We identified eleven studies on the genome, two on the transcriptome, five on the epigenome, five on the proteome category, one study with both genomic and proteomic topics, and one study with both genomic and transcriptomic topics. Six studies discussed the triple relationship between exposure to air pollution during pregnancy, the associated placental -omics marker(s), and the potential effect on disease development later in life. So far, no metabolomic or exposomic data discussing associations between the placenta and prenatal exposure to air pollution have been published. Conclusions: Integration of placental biomarkers in an environmental epidemiological context enables researchers to address fundamental questions essential in unraveling the fetal origin of disease and helps to better define the pregnancy exposome of air pollution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)310-323
Number of pages14
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2018


  • -Omics
  • Air pollution
  • Barker hypothesis
  • Child development
  • Placenta


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