Promising new biomarker to retrospectively capture the early-life exposome

Prenatal and early childhood exposures are recognized as playing a significant role in later health outcomes. With key developmental windows during the prenatal period and the first couple years of life, there is increased interest in studying the early-life exposome. Investments in research are continuing to increase. In 2013, HELIX: The Human Early-Life Exposome was funded by the European Commission in an effort to develop novel tools and methods to assess early-life exposures and children’s health in Europe. Last month, the National Institutes of Health awarded over $144 million to study the impact of environmental influences on children’s health.


Capturing short-lived chemicals can be particularly challenging for common biomarker samples such as blood and urine which require regular longitudinal collection. Additionally, these types of samples may be unattainable for the prenatal period due to high risks of invasive fetal sample collections. For low frequency health outcomes, longitudinal birth cohorts can be cost prohibitive. A team from the Lautenberg Environmental Health Sciences Laboratory at Mount Sinai have proposed a non-invasive, retrospective biomarker that can help overcome these challenges.

In an article published in Environment International, Andra et al. proposed a tooth matrix biomarker to capture complex early-life exposures and their timing retrospectively. Utilizing the unique aspects of tooth development, the timing of exposures can be classified by growth rings, allowing distinct identification of prenatal (second and third trimester) and postnatal periods. Previous work of their team has validated certain metals (Mn, Pb, Ba, Sr) in teeth. To assess multi-chemical exposure profiles, exploratory screening through metabolomics was conducted. Chemical signatures ranging from metals to organic compounds were identified, including some which have very short half-lives in blood and urine.

Tooth biomarkers offer a retrospective, non-invasive measurement tool to directly measure fetal exposures to multiple chemicals. The Mount Sinai team was recently awarded one of the CHEAR (Children’s Health Exposure Analysis Resource) Laboratory Hubs. Under this structure, their developmental core will be working on tooth matrix-based biomarkers as well as other biomarkers aimed at retrospective exposure reconstruction. Although this technology is relatively new, it offers a promising tool for assessing and understanding the early-life exposome.