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Monday, 10 November 2008 19:24

Dirty air may lead to dumb kids

A U.S.-Mexico study on air pollution in Mexico City shows that healthy children (dogs, too) got brain inflammation and lesions, which caused them (only the kids) to do worse in school when compared to children in a low air-pollution city, all because of the dirty air.

The article “Air pollution, cognitive deficits and brain abnormalities: A pilot study with children and dogs” in the journal Brain and Cognition summarizes the results of the study.

Its authors, from Mexico and the United States, are led by experimental pathologist Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, of the Instituto Nacional de Pediatría, Mexico City, Mexico; and the Department of Biomedical and Pharmaceutical Sciences, College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences, The University of Montana, Missoula, U.S.A.

They state in the abstract to their paper, “Exposure to air pollution is associated with neuroinflammation in healthy children and dogs in Mexico City."

They studied 55 healthy children (between the ages of seven and 18 years) and seven young (one to two year old) dogs who were regularly exposed to the high air pollution in Mexico City, Mexico.

They also examined 18 healthy children and young dogs in the low air pollution city of Polotitlán, Mexico.

The researchers gave all of the children psychometric tests, along with brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.

The results of the study are discussed on page two.

The researchers found that 56% of the children in Mexico City showed lesions on the brain, while 57% of the dogs showed likewise.

Only 8% of the children from Polotitlán showed such brain lesions.

The Science News article “Bad air for growing brains and minds” (subscription may be required) states, “What’s more, brain scans of many Mexico City youngsters revealed alterations that can impair the prefrontal cortex, a neural region heavily involved in memory and thinking skills….”

The Calderón-Garcidueñas team concluded that dirty, polluted air could likely contribute to educational troubles in schoolchildren because these children also scored lower than healthy children when taking memory tests, performing problem-solving tests, and taking other such intellectual pursuits that are part of IQ (intelligence quotient) tests given to schoolchildren.

According to their abstract, “The present work presents a groundbreaking, interdisciplinary methodology for addressing relationships between environmental pollution, structural brain alterations by MRI, and cognitive deficits/delays in healthy children."

Although their results are preliminary, they are following up this study with a more comprehensive study of a larger group of children over a longer period.

They also hope to break down the various pollutants in the air to determine which ones are causing brain problems and intellectual problems in children.

The Science News article concludes with: “In studies conducted since 2002, the researchers have reported signs of brain inflammation and brain disease in dogs exposed to Mexico City’s air."

And, "Earlier this year, the researchers found that chronic exposure to air pollution was associated with markers of brain inflammation and increased brain immune responses in children and young adults who had died suddenly and were studied at autopsy. These individuals also possessed high levels of brain proteins thought to contribute to Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.”

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