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UM News
February 27, 2013

MISSOULA

The brains of healthy children respond to long-term air pollution exposure with landmarks akin to those of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, according to a new paper co-written by University of Montana Associate Professor Dr. Lilian Calderon-Garciduenas.

The article, titled “Early Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease Pathology in Urban Children. Friend vs. Foe Responses: It Is Time to Face the Evidence,” will be published in a special online March issue of the peer-reviewed BioMed Research International journal.

The study, conducted by principal investigator Calderon-Garciduenas and researchers at the National University of Mexico and the National Institute of Pediatrics in Mexico City, details the clinical and pathology findings in Mexico City children who are chronically exposed to high concentrations of air pollutants.

Air pollutants, including fine particulate matter above current U.S. standards, are abundant in Mexico City, where 8 million children are exposed to harmful levels of pollution due to extreme urban growth.

Healthy children in this environment exhibited cognitive deficits and structural brain abnormalities, along with evidence of systemic inflammation, respiratory and cardiovascular damage.

“Of particular concern are the deficits involving measures of fluid intelligence and cognitive control,” said Calderon-Garciduenas, who teaches in the UM Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences. “These are able to predict school performance, complex learning, ability to control attention and avoid distraction, and reading and listening comprehension. Also, of key importance from a social point of view, they affect the ability to block impulsive and anti-social behavior.”

The Mexico City data suggest exposed children develop inflammation in the brain and potentially are at risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. These findings are in line with experimental literature associating exposure to particulate matter components such as diesel exhaust with brain inflammation and markers of preclinical Alzheimer’s.

“Investing in defining the central nervous system pathology associated with exposure to air pollutants in children is of pressing importance for public health,” Calderon-Garciduenas said. “Equally important is research into an early implementation of measures to slow or stop brain and systemic inflammatory processes in children exposed to air pollution.

“If we truly are trying to identify and mitigate environmental factors that influence the development of these terrible diseases [Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s], we must face the current pediatric evidence and act on what we are discovering.”

For more information call Calderon-Garcideunas at 406-243-4793 or email lilian.calderon-garciduenas@umontana.edu. The article is available online at http://www.hindawi.com/journals/bmri/2013/161687/.

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Contact: Lilian Calderon-Garciduenas, associate professor, UM College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, 406-243-4785, lilian.calderon-garciduenas@umontana.edu.