Evidence of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease has been found in the brains of young people who were exposed to high levels of air pollution.
An international group of researchers examined the brainstems of 186 residents in Mexico City aged between 11 months and 27 years of age – the one thing that all individuals had in common was their exposure to high levels of particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution.
Following this examination, the researchers found that even in children as young as 11 months old, their brainstems showed signs of nerve cell growths, plaques and tangles.
This kind of damage is linked to the development of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s or motor neuron disease in later life.
According to the researchers based on the appearance and composition of this damage, it was highly likely to have come from vehicle pollution.
The researchers have said that this data indicates the potential for a pandemic of neurological disease in highly polluted cities across the world.
Professor Barbara Maher from Lancaster University said: ‘Not only did the brainstems of the young people in the study show the ‘neuropathological hallmarks’ of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and MND, they also had high concentrations of iron-, aluminium- and titanium-rich nanoparticles in the brainstem – specifically in the substantia nigra, and cerebellum.
‘The iron-and aluminium-rich nanoparticles found in the brainstem are strikingly similar to those which occur as combustion- and friction-derived particles in air pollution (from engines and braking systems).
‘The titanium-rich particles in the brain were different – distinctively needle-like in shape; similar particles were observed in the nerve cells of the gut wall, suggesting these particles reach the brain after being swallowed and moving from the gut into the nerve cells which connect the brainstem with the digestive system.’