Exposure to air pollution in the first five years of life changed the structure of the cerebral cortex

(ORDO NEWS) — Scientists have found a link between exposure to nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter in the first five years of a child’s life and changes in the structure of his brain.

The most heavily polluted children showed abnormal white matter microstructure, which is common in psychiatric disorders.

Scientists from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (Spain) have found a link between changes in the structure of the white matter of the brain in children aged 9-12 years and exposure to air pollutants to which they were exposed during prenatal development and in the first eight and a half years of life.

Pollutants have the strongest effect on the brains of children under the age of five.

The white matter of the brain is represented by bundles of axons, which provide a structural connection between different areas of the brain.

This connectivity can be measured by studying the microstructure of the white matter, and its abnormalities are often observed in various mental disorders, such as depression and autism.

The study involved 3515 children. To determine exposure to air pollution, scientists measured nitrogen dioxide (NO 2 ) and particulate matter (PM 2.5 and PM 10 ) levels in women’s homes every month during their pregnancy and until their children were eight and a half years old.

When the participants were 9-12 years old, they underwent magnetic resonance imaging of the brain (MRI), which allows to study the structural connection and volumes of various parts of the brain.

Nitrogen dioxide is a toxic gas that enters the atmosphere mainly with combustion products, vehicle exhausts and industrial waste. It poses a serious danger to human health, mainly to the circulatory and respiratory systems.

Recorded levels of NO 2 and PM 2.5 exceeded the annual thresholds recommended by the World Health Organization, but were in line with European Union standards.

Nevertheless, they still led to a violation of the structure of the white matter. This effect was most pronounced if children were exposed to pollution in the first five years of life.

The authors also found a link between exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5 ) and shell volume, a brain structure involved in movement, learning and many other functions.

Since the putamen is located deep in the brain, it has much less specialized functions than the cortical structures.

The study showed that the stronger the exposure to PM 2.5 , especially during the first two years after birth, the greater the volume of the shell was observed in preadolescent children.

Doctors associate the presence of a larger shell with some mental disorders: schizophrenia, autism and obsessive-compulsive disorder.


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