target menu
... / ... / ... / News / Children's brain structure affected by air...

Children's brain structure affected by air pollution

Research has shown that air pollution is related to brain development changes and cognitive functioning in children. The current EU limits for air pollution may not be low enough.

Luchtverontreiniging auto kinderen
The effect of air pollution starts in the womb and affects the structure and functioning of the brain later in life, even at air pollution levels currently considered to be safe. The Erasmus MC researchers working on the Generation R project published their findings in Biological Psychiatry on Friday, 9 March.

Fetal brains are particularly vulnerable as fetuses have not yet developed the mechanisms to protect themselves against environmental toxins. Previous studies had already shown that exposure to air pollution, especially fine particles, can damage the lungs, heart and other organs. The study showed that the development of the brain is also affected by maternal exposure to air pollution, even if the pollution levels remains below the currently acceptable EU limits.

Mental health problems
Exposure to fine particles during fetal life is linked to a thinner cerebral cortex. The study showed that these brain alterations contribute in part to difficulty with inhibitory control, which is the ability to regulate self-control over temptations and impulsive behavior. This is related to mental health problems such as addictive behavior and ADHD.

The researchers measured the air pollution levels at home and performed a brain scan on 783 children between 6 and 10 years old. The brain imaging revealed abnormalities in the thickness of the cerebral cortex. Despite the relationship between these brain structure alterations and fine particle exposure, the average residential levels of fine particles in the study were well below the currently acceptable limit.

The study was led by Dr. Monica Guxens of ISGlobal in Barcelona. The principal researcher in the Netherlands was Dr. Hanan El Marroun. Both researchers are affiliated with Erasmus MC's department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry/Psychology.

See also the press release.

Date published: 9 March 2018.

Share this page: