Recently, scientists have found that the brains of young people exposed to air pollution have neurodegenerative disease markers in their brain stems.
A recent research has shown that the markers for Alzheimer’s disease , Parkinson ‘s disease, and motor neuron disease in their brain stems are young adults and children exposed to air pollution.
Nanoparticles that seemed to originate from the internal combustion and braking systems of vehicles were alongside these markers.
The report , published in the Environmental Research journal, highlights the need to do more to protect young people from the effects of air pollution in order to avoid “a global neurodegenerative epidemic.”
Diseases that are neurodegenerative
A large number of individuals around the world are affected by neurodegenerative disorders, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, and motor neuron disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ( CDC), for instance, reports that about 5 million individuals in the United States had Alzheimer’s disease in 2014.
In both of these diseases, scientists have a clear understanding of what happens to the brain and nervous system of an individual. They are less clear about the underlying causes, however.
The CDC, the National Institute on Aging, and the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke claim that a mixture of genetic and environmental factors are likely to cause Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and motor neuron disease.
Air Pollution Link?
Air pollution is one environmental factor that may lead to the development of neurodegenerative diseases.
A link between air pollution and Alzheimer’s disease has been shown by studies. The relation between Parkinson’s disease and air pollution, however, is less obvious, and limited research has been done on the effects of air pollution on motor neuron disease.
In the latest report , the researchers set out to classify in the brain stems of deceased young people from Mexico City the signs for Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and motor neuron disease.
They wanted to see if they could link these diseases to some evidence of air pollution nanoparticles in the brain stems of the individuals.
The scientists analyzed material from 186 autopsies performed between 2004 and 2008. The age of the individuals varied from 11 months to 40 years.
A few hours after death, pathologists carried out the initial autopsies and then stored the materials, including parts of the brain stem, at -80 ° C (-112 ° F) until they were examined by the researchers.
Signs of pollution and disease
The researchers identified markers not only for Alzheimer’s disease, but also for Parkinson’s disease and motor neuron disease in the brain stems. Such markers included nerve cell growths and misformed proteins that created tangles and plaques.
Significantly, the researchers also found particles that were likely to be the result of vehicle air emissions alongside these markers.
According to Prof. Barbara Maher of the University of Lancaster in the United Kingdom, who is a co-author of the research, “[n]ot only did the brain stems of the young people in the research show the ‘neuropathological features’ of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and [motor neuron disease], they also had high concentrations of nanoparticles rich in iron, aluminum, and titanium in the brain stem, especially in t.”
“The iron and aluminum-rich nanoparticles present in the brain stem are remarkably similar to those that occur in air pollution (from engines and braking systems) as combustion and friction-derived particles,” Prof. Maher continues.
The titanium-rich particles in the brain were distinctly needle-like in shape; similar particles were found in the gut wall nerve cells, indicating that after being swallowed, these particles enter the brain and travel from the gut into the nerve cells that link the brain stem with the digestive system.’
The environments where the people had lived would have subjected them to high levels of fine particulate matter, according to the researchers.
Various factors, including dust , smoke, vehicle braking wear, and the interaction of atmospheric gases produced by vehicles and industrial sites during combustion, cause this type of pollution.
In comparison, neurodegenerative disease markers were not seen in the control group of age-matched deceased individuals living in low-pollution areas.
The co-presence of particles from urban air pollution and neurodegenerative disease markers is a significant source of concern for researchers. The researchers are concerned that as young people around the world who are exposed to air pollution grow older, a neurodegenerative disease epidemic could happen.
“As Prof. Maher states,” [i]t is important to understand the relations between the nanoparticles in which you breathe or swallow and the effects of those metal-rich particles on the different areas of your brain.
“Different individuals may be vulnerable to such particulate exposure at different levels, but our recent results suggest that what air contaminants you are exposed to, what you inhale and swallow, are very important for the development of neurological damage.”
“With this in mind, control of nanoparticulate sources of air pollution becomes critical and urgent.”
– Prof. Barbara Maher