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Does air pollution harm the brain?
There appears to be a link between traffic-related air pollution and an increased risk of brain development disorders, according to a recent study.
A recent study by the University of California found that air pollution affects brain development. The results were published in the English-language journal "Translational Psychiatry".
Known effects of air pollution
While air pollution has long been a problem for lung and cardiovascular health, research groups have only been concerned with the effects on the brain in the past decade, reports toxicologist and study author Pamela Lein from the University of California.
Effects of busy roads
Connections between proximity to busy roads and disorders of neurological development such as autism have already been documented, but preclinical data based on real-time pollution from traffic-related air pollution was scarce or nonexistent.
Real-time effects of air pollution
In the current study, the research group tried to develop a novel approach to investigate the effects of traffic-related air pollution in real time. To do this, they set up a rat enclosure near a traffic tunnel in Northern California to mimic the effects of air pollution in a rodent model as closely as possible.
Danger from busy roads
This approach was a creative way to answer the question of what effects air pollution has on the brain when disruptive factors such as socio-economic influences, nutrition etc. are missing. It is important to learn whether living near such streets poses a significant risk to the human brain in development, the researchers explain in a press release from the University of California, Davis.
Groups of rats breathed different air
The researchers compared the brains of rat puppies that were exposed to traffic-related air pollution to those that breathed filtered air. Both air sources were extracted from the tunnel in real time.
What was the impact of air pollution?
They found abnormal growth and increased neuroinflammation in the brains of animals exposed to air pollution. This suggests that exposure to air pollution during critical development phases can increase the risk of changes in the brain associated with neurological development disorders, the research group explains.
Air pollution was within the limits
These effects were based on pollution levels, but are within the legal limits in the United States. Against the background of other environmental and genetic risk factors in humans, this could have a stronger impact. The air pollutants also contain very fine particulate matter, for which there is no regulation yet, the researchers report.
Which component of air pollution influenced neurological developments?
In a separate study, the exposure was extended to 14 months to investigate the long-term effects of traffic-related air pollution. The results are still being analyzed. The team is also interested in which component of traffic-related air pollution has the greatest impact on the results of neurological development. Should such a component be identified, the researchers could approach legislative bodies to implement scientifically sound regulations to protect the human brain.
Other future challenges
The biggest challenge in studying the health effects of air pollution could be to reproduce how, when and what type of pollution people are exposed to throughout their lives. Addressing this problem requires creative thinking and a multidisciplinary team of researchers. (as)
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
- Kelley T. Patten, Eduardo A. González, Anthony Valenzuela, Elizabeth Berg, Christopher Wallis et al .: Effects of early life exposure to traffic-related air pollution on brain development in juvenile Sprague-Dawley rats, in Translational Psychiatry (Published May 27. 2020), Translational Psychiatry
- Air Quality Impacts Early Brain Development, University of California, Davis, UCDavis