Environmental and genetic predictors of whole blood mercury and selenium concentrations in pregnant women in the UK birth cohort

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There is evidence that tissue concentrations of mercury (Hg) and selenium (Se) are predicted by numerous dietary, sociodemographic, environmental, and genetic factors. This study aimed to estimate the relative importance of predictors of Hg and Se concentrations in blood samples taken from pregnant women. The Avon Longitudinal Study of Parents and Children (ALSPAC) in the UK measured whole blood Hg and Se concentrations in 3,972 pregnant women. We identified 30 potential predictors of Hg and 24 of Se, which were evaluated using cross-validated random forests to identify the optimal models for predictive power. The relative importance of individual variables was estimated by averaging the added-R2 per predictor. Linkage disequilibrium score regression was used to estimate the variance explained by genotype. A multivariable model of 14 predictors explained 22.4% of Hg variance (95% CI: 13.0 to 37.1), including 6.9% from blood Se and 3.2% from white fish consumption. There were 11 predictors which explained 15.3% of Se variance (CI: 8.9 to 25.9), including 6.4% from blood Hg, 1.3% from blood lead, and 1.3% from oily fish. Measured genetic variation explained 30% of Hg variance (CI: 8.4 to 51.5) and 37.5% of Se (CI: 10.4 to 64.5). A high proportion of Hg and Se variance could be explained from dietary, sociodemographic, metabolic, and genetic factors. Seafood consumption was less predictive of Hg than may be expected and other factors should be considered when determining risk of exposure. There was tentative evidence that genotype is a major contributor to Hg and Se variation, possibly by modifying the efficacy of internal metabolism.
Original languageEnglish
Article number100469
JournalEnvironmental Advances
Early online date21 Dec 2023
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2024

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