Children who have been exposed to air pollution for a long time show signs of Alzheimer’s and other neurological disorders in the brain. This is shown by British research in Mexico City.
British scientists found in the brainstem of 186 young Mexico City residents, aged between 11 months and 27 years old, not only signs of Alzheimer’s, but also Parkinson’s and motor neuron disease (MND).
Typical neuropathological features found even in the youngest child include nerve cell growth, plaques and tangles formed by misfolded proteins in the brain.
The study also identified the presence of tiny nanoparticles in the brain stem, the back part of the brain that regulates the central nervous system, heart and respiration, among other things.
“The brain stem of the young people in the study not only show the neuropathological features of Alzheimer’s, Parkisone and MND, but they also have high concentrations of iron, aluminum and titanium-rich nanoparticles,” says Professor of Environmental Sciences Barbara Maher at the University of Lancaster. ‘The iron and aluminum variants are strikingly similar to the particles in air pollution from combustion engines and wear.’
The titanium-rich particles are different. They are needle-shaped and have previously been found in the intestinal wall, suggesting that they have been ingested and reach the brain through the nerve cells that connect the intestines to the brain stem.
All of the youngsters studied had one thing in common: exposure to high concentrations of air pollution.
All of the youngsters studied had one thing in common: exposure to high concentrations of air pollution. Maher therefore calls the connection between the nanoparticles found and the damage to cells one smoking gun. After all, young people who live in healthier areas of Mexico City do not show the same damage in the brain stem.
The researchers warn of a ‘pandemic’ of nervous diseases in densely populated cities around the world as people live longer and neurological problems develop earlier.
“It is crucial to understand the connections between the nanoparticles that we inhale or ingest and the impact they subsequently have on different parts of our brain,” says Maher. ‘Different people are vulnerable in different ways, but our research shows that our exposure to pollution is significant in the development of neurological damage. That also means that it is crucial and urgent to tackle the sources of that pollution. ‘