A new study by researchers at the University of British Columbia and the University of Victoria shows that common levels of traffic pollution can impair human brain function in just a few hours.
Peer-reviewed findings published in the journal Environmental Health show that just two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust reduces functional connectivity in the brain. It measures how different areas of the brain interact and communicate with each other. This study provides the first evidence in humans of air pollution-induced changes in brain network connectivity from a controlled experiment.
“For decades, scientists have believed that the brain may be protected from the harmful effects of air pollution.” It provides new evidence to support the relationship with cognition.”
For this study, researchers briefly exposed 25 healthy adults to diesel exhaust and filtered air at different times in a laboratory setting. Brain activity was measured before and after each exposure using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
Researchers analyzed changes in the brain’s default mode network (DMN). The DMN is a set of interconnected brain regions that play important roles in memory and inner thinking. fMRI revealed that functional connectivity was reduced in widespread regions of the DMN after participants were exposed to diesel exhaust compared to filtered air.
“We know that altered functional connectivity in the DMN is associated with cognitive decline and symptoms of depression, so it’s worrying to see traffic pollution disrupt these same networks.” , Professor of Psychology at the University of Victoria and first author of the study. “More research is needed to fully understand the impact of these changes on function, but they can impair people’s ability to think and work.”
take steps to protect yourself
Notably, the brain changes were temporary, and participants’ connections returned to normal after exposure. Dr. Carsten speculated that if exposure continues, the effects could be long-lasting. He said people should be mindful of the air they are breathing and take appropriate measures to minimize their exposure to potentially harmful air pollutants such as car exhaust. I got
Dr. Carsten said: “It’s important to make sure your car’s air filter is working properly. If you’re walking or biking on a busy street, consider detouring to a less-trafficked route. please.”
Current research looks only at the cognitive effects of traffic-derived pollution, but Dr. Carsten said other combustion products are likely to be of concern.
“Air pollution is now recognized as the greatest environmental threat to human health, and we are increasingly seeing its effects on all major organ systems,” says Dr. Carsten. “I think we see similar effects on the brain from exposure to other air pollutants, like wildfire smoke. It’s an important consideration for people.”
The study was conducted at UBC’s Air Pollution Exposure Laboratory at Vancouver General Hospital. The lab is equipped with state-of-the-art exposure booths that can simulate breathing various air pollutants. In this carefully designed and safety-approved study, researchers used freshly generated exhaust that had been diluted and aged to reflect real-world conditions.
reference: Gawryluk JR, Palombo DJ, Curran J, Parker A, Carlsten C. Short-term exposure to diesel exhaust significantly impairs functional brain connectivity in humans: a randomized controlled crossover study. environmental health2023;22(1):7. Doi:10.1186/s12940-023-00961-4
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