Multidisciplinary UM Study Finds Air Pollution Relevant to Parkinson’s Disease Risk in Young Urbanites

July 01, 2015

MISSOULA – As scientists continue to research the cause of Parkinson’s disease, an international, collaborative University of Montana study found young children exposed to urban air pollution may have a greater risk of developing it. The study was published in the March issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease & Parkinsonism.

“Air pollution breaks your gastrointestinal barrier, allowing for the entrance of particulate matter directly into your brainstem via the enteric nervous system,” said Dr. Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, one of the study’s lead researchers and a professor at UM’s Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience.

The study was titled “The Intestinal Barrier in Air Pollution-Associated Neural Involvement in Mexico City Residents: Mind the Gut, the Evolution of a Changing Paradigm Relevant to Parkinson Disease Risk.” It examined the integrity of tight junctions (structures that keep cells together) in dogs’ small intestines and the presence of autoantibodies against these proteins in children residing in one of the most polluted megacities on our continent, Mexico City.

The study found environmental particulate matter damages the integrity of the gastrointestinal tract barrier, impacts neuronal enteric populations and can reach the vagus and the brainstem, putting that body at greater risk for medical conditions involving the brain, including Parkinson’s.

“Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease affecting Americans,” Calderón-Garcidueñas said. “The issue is very important, and this research may provide a fresh insight into Parkinson’s disease pathogenesis and open opportunities for pediatric neuroprotection.”

The researchers involved hope their study generates more interest in Parkinson’s disease prevention.

“Defining the linkage and the health consequences of the brain/gut/immune system interactions in urban children showing already the early hallmarks of Parkinson’s disease ought to be of pressing importance for public health,” Calderón-Garcidueñas said. “Unfortunately, there is a total lack of support for research focusing on Parkinson’s disease prevention and high-risk children, and that is very sad.”

The study is online at For more information call Calderón-Garcidueñas at 406-243-4785 or email

Contact: Dr. Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, professor, UM Center for Structural and Functional Neuroscience, 406-243-4785,