Air pollution would alter brain morphology
While air pollution has long been considered a problem for lung and cardiovascular health, scientists have focused their attention on its effects on the brain only in the past decade.
University of California researchers have found a link between traffic-related air pollution and an increased risk of changes in brain development. These changes appear to be relevant for the development of neurological disorders. Their study, based on rodent models, confirms previous epidemiological evidence demonstrating this association (Patten et al., 2020).
While air pollution has long been a problem for lung and cardiovascular health, scientists have focused their attention on its effects on the brain only in the past decade.
Researchers previously documented links between proximity to busy roads and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, but preclinical data, based on real-time exposure to traffic-related air pollution, were sparse or non-existent (Raz et al. , 2018).
To answer the hypotheses put forward, the experimenters set up a vivarium near a traffic tunnel in Northern California so that they could imitate the experience of humans in a rodent-based model (Patten et al., 2020).
It is important to know if living near these roads poses a significant risk to the development of the human brain, if this is done, scientists could warn sensitive people, such as pregnant women – especially those who have already been diagnosed a child with a neurodevelopmental disorder – so that appropriate precautions can be taken to minimize the health risks of the child (Patten et al., 2020).
The researchers compared the brains of rat puppies exposed to traffic-related air pollution to those exposed to filtered air. Both air sources were taken from the tunnel in real time. The results show abnormal growth and an increase in neuroinflammation in the brains of animals exposed to air pollution. This suggests that exposure to pollution during critical development periods could increase the risk of changes in the brain which are associated with neurological development disorders (Patten et al., 2020).
The brain alterations given by air pollution, if associated with other risk factors, such as a genetic predisposition, could have more pronounced effects and consequently more important brain alterations. The brain changes that occur may be due to very fine particles that are not currently regulated (Patten et al., 2020).
A similar study extended exposure to air pollution for 14 months, with the aim of examining the impact of this long-term environmental factor; the study is still nearing completion, therefore the results are not yet prepared (Patten et al., 2020). The team that is conducting these studies is also interested in which components of traffic-related air pollution alter neurological development, the goal is to understand which substances are guilty of these alterations so that they can turn to legislators to develop scientific regulations based for the protection of human brain development (Patten et al., 2020).