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New study shows how exposure to air pollution early in life may lead to autism

Published on March 6, 2019

Firefighters extinguish a fire
Image Credit: US Air Force: Labeled for reuse: Airman 1st Class Eugene Oliver

Exposure to air pollution, particularly traffic-related air pollution, has previously been linked to autism spectrum disorder in epidemiological studies. And now a new animal study from the University of Washington School of Public Health describes a possible mechanism by which this relationship might occur. The study was published Jan. 16 in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

In an earlier study, researchers from the School found that mice exposed to very unhealthy levels of diesel exhaust, or particulate matter, during pregnancy and early in development displayed behavioral alterations typical of autism spectrum disorder. That is, an increase in repetitive behavior, disrupted communication and deficits in social interactions. Similar hazardous air quality levels have recently been experienced in Seattle during the summer months as wildfires raged through the region.

Yu-Chi (Rachel) Chang, an alumna of the University of Washington School of Public Health‘s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, conducted this study as part of her doctoral dissertation in toxicology.

The current paper describes experiments on mice that show developmental exposure to diesel exhaust could cause subtle changes in the structure of the cerebral cortex (the outer layer of neural tissue of the cerebrum of the brain), as seen in the brains of autistic patients. Researchers also propose a series of biochemical and molecular changes that may underlie such cortical alterations.

“These studies provide an animal model that will allow further investigations on the biological plausibility for an association between air pollution and autism spectrum disorder,” said Lucio Costa, a senior author of the new study and professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the UW School of Public Health.

Continue reading at UW SPH

Originally posted on UW SPH by Ashlie Chandler
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