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Mice Study Finds Link between Air Pollution and Autism, Schizophrenia

Update Date: Jun 05, 2014 03:02 PM EDT
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Air pollution is not only detrimental for the environment, it is also bad for people's health. According to some studies, excessive exposure to air pollution can be linked to respiratory diseases. In a new study, researchers experimented on mice models and found that air pollution could increase one's risk of autism and schizophrenia.

The research team headed by Deborah Cory-Slechta, Ph.D., professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester conducted three sets of experiments. In each set, the mice were exposed to varying levels of air pollution that were comparable to the levels emitted during rush hour in mid-sized U.S. cities. Mice were first exposed two weeks after birth for four hours in two four-day sections.

The researchers found that all of the mice had inflammation throughout the brain. Specifically, the lateral ventricles, which contain cerebrospinal fluid, were double to triple their normal size. The team added that these problems were still noticeable in mice that were examined 40 and 270 days after exposure. The team concluded that the damage was permanent.

"When we looked closely at the ventricles, we could see that the white matter that normally surrounds them hadn't fully developed," said Cory-Slechta. "It appears that inflammation had damaged those brain cells and prevented that region of the brain from developing, and the ventricles simply expanded to fill the space."

The researchers reported that the mice also had increased levels of glutamate, which is a neurotransmitter tied to autism and schizophrenia in humans. Overall, the effects of air pollution were more noticeable in male mice than female mice. Exposed mice performed worse on testes that measured short-term memory. They also had poorer learning ability and impulsivity.

"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," said Cory-Slechta.

The study was published in the journal, Environmental Health Perspectives.

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