Dr. Darryl B. Hood, associate professor in the Division of Environmental Health Sciences at Ohio State University College of Public Health, along with researchers from both Meharry Medical College and Auburn University, recently discovered that children’s ability to learn may be negatively affected by the environment as early as in utero. Dr. Hood and colleagues found that when rats are exposed to Benzo(a)pyrene in the environment while still in utero it produces deficits in spatial discrimination reversals in in the offspring during late adolescence.
[Photo: Dr. Darryl B. Hood]
“We are very pleased with this novel discovery in that it the first such demonstration of the functional behavioral learning impact of in utero Benzo(a)pyrene exposure,” said Dr. Hood. “The study reveals a previously un-described and un-characterized spatial discrimination deficit that has implications as to a plausible mechanistic etiology for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and associated neurobehavioral disorders.”
They chose to measure spatial discrimination reversal procedure because it reflects the brain’s ability to change structure and function in a changing environment- in short, the ability to learn. Overall, they found that exposure to environmental contamination while in utero can produce long lasting negative effects on circuits of neurons that manifest as deficits in behavioral learning. Those harmed circuits of neurons may be connected to adverse child behavior, and according to their research, potentially affect the child’s school performance.
Benzo(a)pyrene (B(a)P) is a member of a class of compounds known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). PAHs are primarily by-products of incomplete combustion. These combustion sources are numerous, including natural sources such as wildfires, industrial processes, transportation, energy production and use, food preparation, smoking tobacco, and disposal activities such a as open trash burning. B(a)P along with other PAHs are suspected of causing cancer in humans. It does not break down easily in our environment and can be carried through the air for long distances.
The full article, “Revealing Behavioral Learning Deficit Phenotypes Subsequent to in utero Exposure to Benzo(a)pyrene” is available in Toxicological Sciences.