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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Washington: Possible Pathway by Which Exposure to Air Pollution Early in Life May Lead to Autism

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.

The paper describes experiments on mice that show exposure to very unhealthy levels of diesel exhaust, or particulate matter, during pregnancy and early in development could cause subtle changes in the structure of the cerebral cortex, as seen in the brains of autistic patients. Researchers also propose a series of biochemical and molecular changes that may underlie such cortical alterations.

“From a public health point of view, it adds to the concerns of air pollution as a possible etiological factor for developmental and neurodegenerative disorders,” said Dr. Lucio Costa, a senior author of the new study and professor of environmental and occupational health sciences at the UW School of Public Health.

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