Air pollution linked to decreased motor control and sensory perception

Exposure to air pollution in childhood is associated with structural changes in the brain that are linked to motor control and sensory perception, according to research published in PLOS One. 

Air pollution has been known to affect the brain in many different ways, with known links to depression and schizophrenia, researchers at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital set out to investigate how early exposure to air pollution impacts brain development. 

147 children were recruited as volunteers to take part in the study. 

The volunteers either had low or high air pollution exposure during their first year of life, the researchers calculated this by examining their air pollution exposure from a network of 27 monitoring sites in the Cincinnati area over different seasons. 

They then used magnetic resonance imaging to obtain anatomical brain images from the children when they were 12-year-olds. 

The researchers found that children who were exposed to higher levels of pollution at birth led to reductions in gray matter volume when the children were aged 12.

Gray matter includes regions of the brain that are involved with motor control and sensory perception, such as seeing and hearing. 

Travis Beckwith, the lead author of the study, said: ‘The results of this study, though exploratory, suggest that where you live and the air you breathe can affect how your brain develops.

‘While the percentage of loss is far less than what might be seen in a degenerative disease state, this loss may be enough to influence the development of various physical and mental processes.

‘If early life air pollution exposure irreversibly harms brain development, structural consequences could persist regardless of the time point of subsequent examination.’

Earlier last year, Air Quality News reported on findings from researchers from McGill University, Canada, who found a link between air pollution nanoparticles produced by fuel-burning and brain cancer.

The researchers found that a 10,000 cubic centimetre (cm3) increase in UFPs was positively associated with incidences of brain tumours. 

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