Air Quality Impacts Early Brain Development

cars in traffic emitting pollution
Traffic-related air pollution may affect the developing brain, found a UC Davis study of exposed rodents. (Getty)

Study Explores How Living Close to Roadways May Impact the Brain

By Trina Wood on June 17, 2020

"Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have found a link between traffic-related air pollution and an increased risk for changes in brain development relevant to neurodevelopmental disorders. Their study, based on rodent models, corroborates previous epidemiological evidence showing this association.

While air pollution has long been a concern for pulmonary and cardiovascular health, it has only been within the past decade that scientists have turned their attention to its effects on the brain, said UC Davis toxicologist Pamela Lein, senior author of the study, recently published in Translational Psychiatry.

Researchers had previously documented links between proximity to busy roadways and neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism, but preclinical data based on real-time exposures to traffic-related air pollution was scarce to nonexistent.

Lein worked with UC Davis atmospheric scientist Anthony Wexler and first author Kelley Patten, a doctoral student in the UC Davis graduate group for pharmacology and toxicology, to develop a novel approach to study the impacts of traffic-related air pollution in real time. They set up a vivarium near a traffic tunnel in Northern California so they could mimic, as closely as possible, the experience of humans in a rodent model.

'This approach was a creative way to get at the question of what impacts air pollution has on the brain in the absence of confounding factors such as socioeconomic influences, diet, etc.,' Lein said. “It’s important to know if living close to these roadways poses a significant risk to the developing human brain.

'If it does,' Lein continues, 'scientists can warn susceptible individuals, such as pregnant women — particularly those who have already had a child diagnosed with a neurodevelopmental disorder — to take appropriate precautions to minimize risks to the health of their child’s brain.'”

Read the full story at UC Davis News

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