Air pollution linked to autism and schizophrenia

 

A new study has revealed that exposure to air pollution damages the brain of developing mice, affecting the same area of the brain that is known to play a role in autism and schizophrenia in humans. 

Researchers from the University of Rochester in the US found that when mice were regularly exposed to fine particle pollution in the first two weeks of their life, they developed a range of brain abnormalities which are consistent with patterns seen in humans suffering from schizophrenia and autism. These harmful effects were mainly observed in the male mice; a finding that corresponds to the fact that boys and men are more likely to be diagnosed with both of these disorders.  

“Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that air pollution may play a role in autism, as well as in other neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Deborah Cory-Slechta, professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester and lead author of the study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Exposure to fine particle air pollution was found to cause inflammation in the brains of the young mice, damaging the development of white matter. The lateral ventricles, cavities in the brain which are filled with cerebrospinal fluid and protect the brain from trauma, were found to be enlarged to up to three times their normal size, filling up the free space in the underdeveloped brains. This dilation of the ventricles has previously been linked to autism and schizophrenia in humans. In addition, after breathing the contaminated air, the male mice exhibited a high level of glutamate in the brain, a neurotransmitter found to be abnormally high in individuals suffering from these same two conditions.

The air pollution created in the lab by Cory-Slechta and her colleagues matches the level typically present during rush hour in a medium-sized US city. The mice were exposed to the impure air for four hours a day during four days of their first week of life, followed by a further four days during the second week after birth. Developmentally, these timings correspond to the period just before and just after birth in human babies. The study focused on the ultrafine particles in polluted air, believed by the researchers to be more detrimental to health than their larger counterparts, which can be filtered out by the nose and lungs. Although most previous research on the adverse health effects of pollution has focused on the consequences for the respiratory system and heart function, earlier studies have linked airborne pollutants to other neurodevelopmental problems, including cognitive decline and depression.

The new findings correspond with a recent study by researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of California, in which children who spent their first year of life in areas with high levels of air pollution were found to be three times as likely to develop autism than those starting out in cleaner surroundings. Currently, an estimated one per cent of people in the UK could be affected by a disorder on the autistic spectrum. The prevalence of autism is growing, and researchers are keen to understand the reasons behind what some describe as an "autism epidemic". Earlier this month a report emerged linking the condition to higher levels of testosterone in the womb. Schizophrenia affects a similar number of people, and, like autism, its causes are far from being fully understood.

According to Cory-Slechta, her discovery does not necessarily mean that pollution is responsible for causing autism or schizophrenia. "I never use the word 'causes,'" she told USA Today. "I try to make people understand it's the interaction of all these risk factors in your life, over your lifespan, that come together."

However, she does believe that changes in regulation should be considered: “I think these findings are going to raise new questions about whether the current regulatory standards for air quality are sufficient to protect our children”.

VIDEO: CLICK HERE TO WATCH A VIDEO ON LIVING WITH AUTISM
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Digital Content Manager,Leicester

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Charter Selection: Leading Nationwide and important...

SAP FICO Trainer

Negotiable: Progressive Recruitment: I am currently seeking a SAP FICO Trainer...

Commercial IP Solicitor - Oxford

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: OXFORDSHIRE - COMMERCIAL IP /IT - We ...

Sales Director, Edgeware, Middlesex

£55 - £70K OTE £120k Plus Car: Charter Selection: Major multi-million pound la...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor