Using systematic reviews and meta-analyses to support regulatory decision making for neurotoxicants: Lessons learned from a case study of PCBs

Michael Goodman, Katherine Squibb, Eric Youngstrom, Laura Gutermuth Anthony, Lauren Kenworthy, Paul H. Lipkin, Donald R. Mattison, Judy S. LaKind

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Background: Epidemiologic weight-of-evidence reviews to support regulatory decision making regarding the association between environmental chemical exposures and neurodevelopmental outcomes in children are often complicated by lack of consistency across studies. Objective: We examined prospective cohort studies evaluating the relation between prenatal and neo natal exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and neurodevelopment in children to assess the feasibility of conducting a meta-analysis to support decision making. Data extraction/synthesis: We described studies in terms of exposure and end point categorization, statistical analysis, and reporting of results. We used this evaluation to assess the feasibility of grouping studies into reasonably uniform categories. Results: The current literature includes 11 cohorts of children for whom effects from prenatal or neo natal PCB exposures were assessed. The most consistently used tests included Brazelton's Neonatal Behavioral Assessment Scale, the neurologic optimality score in the neonatal period, the Bayley Scales of Infant Development at 5-8 months of age, and the McCarthy Scales of Children's Abilities in 5-year-olds. Despite administering the same tests at similar ages, the studies were too dissimilar to allow a meaningful quantitative examination of outcomes across cohorts. Conclusions: These analyses indicate that our ability to conduct weight-of-evidence assessments of the epidemiologic literature on neurotoxicants may be limited, even in the presence of multiple studies, if the available study methods, data analysis, and reporting lack comparability. Our findings add support to previous calls for establishing consensus standards for the conduct, analysis, and reporting of epidemiologic studies in general, and for those evaluating the effects of potential neurotoxic exposures in particular.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)727-734
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental health perspectives
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Domain
  • Function testing
  • Meta-analysis
  • Neurodevelopment
  • Neurotoxicants
  • PCBs
  • Risk assessment
  • Weight of evidence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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