Research at the University of Rochester, US, has revealed that exposure to air pollution may play a role in autism and schizophrenia in humans, affecting the area in the brain known to cause neurodevelopmental disorders.

A new study has revealed that exposure to air pollution damages the brain of developing mice, affecting the same area of the brain that is known to play a role in autism and schizophrenia in humans.

The study focused on the effects of ultrafine particles in polluted air believed by the researchers to be more detrimental to health as compared to larger particles, which can be filtered out by the nose and lungs. When mice were regularly exposed to fine particle pollution in the first two weeks of their life, they developed a range of brain abnormalities which are consistent with patterns seen in humans suffering from schizophrenia and autism.

These effects were primarily observed in the male mice depicting that boys and men are more likely to be diagnosed with these disorders. A high level of glutamate was found in the brain of the male mice after breathing in the contaminated air. Glutamate is a neurotransmitter that is abnormally high in individuals suffering from autism and schizophrenia. The level of air pollution that was made use of in the lab was created as per the average level of pollution in a medium-sized city during rush hour.

“Our findings add to the growing body of evidence that air pollution may play a role in autism, as well as in other neurodevelopmental disorders,” said Deborah Cory-Slechta, professor of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester and lead author of this study, published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

The findings of this study match up with another recent study by researchers at the University of Southern California and the University of California, which suggested that children who spent their first year of life highly polluted areas are three times more likely to develop autism.

According to Cory-Slechta, her discovery does not necessarily mean that pollution is responsible for causing autism or schizophrenia. “I never use the word ’causes,'” she told USA Today. “I try to make people understand it’s the interaction of all these risk factors in your life, over your lifespan, that come together.”

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