Risk gene for Alzheimer's may aggravate neurological effects of air pollution in children

September 7, 2018, Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal)
Participants at the BREATHE project in Barcelona (Spain) take computerised tests Credit: Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal)

There is growing evidence that exposure to air pollution adversely affects cognitive and behavioural development in children. However, the mechanisms underlying this association are, as yet, unknown. Now, the findings of a new study from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), an institute supported by the "la Caixa" Banking Foundation, suggest that the ε4 variant of the APOE gene may play a significant role in this process. The study has been published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Previous studies carried out within the framework of the BREATHE project have linked childhood exposure to with diminished cognitive development, increased , and even structural differences in the brains of the children studied.

In the new study, which analysed data from over 1,600 children attending 39 schools in Barcelona, scientists observed that the association between exposure to traffic-related pollution and adverse effects on neurodevelopment was more marked in the children who carried the ε4 allele of the APOE gene. Carriers of this genetic variant had higher behaviour problem scores and their attention capacity developed more slowly. Moreover, the volume of the caudate nucleus, an anatomical brain structure, tended to be smaller in that population.

"These findings suggest that children who carry this allele could be more vulnerable to the detrimental effects that air pollution has on important aspects of their neurodevelopment," explained Silvia Alemany, ISGlobal researcher and lead author of the study

Neurodegenerative Diseases

"Systemic inflammation and oxidative stress are two of the most well-established mechanisms underlying the of air pollution. Interestingly, both these mechanisms are also involved in the pathogenesis of dementia. In fact, research has demonstrated an association between exposure to air pollution and cognitive impairment in older people. All these considerations, and the fact that APOE ε4 is the most important known genetic risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, led us to wonder whether the allele might also have a relationship with the air pollution has on brain function in children," says Silvia Alemany.

Genetic data were available for all of the participants. Tests were carried out to evaluate cognitive functions, behavioural problems and possible symptoms of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Traffic-related were calculated on the basis of actual measurements. Magnetic resonance imaging data were available for 163 of the study participants.

"More research will be needed in other populations to replicate these results and we need to establish whether this possible genetic vulnerability also applies to exposure to air pollution during earlier stages of development, for example, in the prenatal period," warns ISGlobal researcher Jordi Sunyer, director of the BREATHE project. "In any case, once again the findings are clear: it is essential to implement measures to reduce traffic in the urban environment and, particularly, in places where children are present, such as the areas around schools.".

Explore further: Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy does not appear to increase symptoms of ADHD

More information: Silvia Alemany et al, Traffic-Related Air Pollution, APOE ε4 Status, and Neurodevelopmental Outcomes among School Children Enrolled in the BREATHE Project (Catalonia, Spain), Environmental Health Perspectives (2018). DOI: 10.1289/EHP2246

Related Stories

Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy does not appear to increase symptoms of ADHD

June 26, 2018
Exposure to air pollution during pregnancy may not be associated with an increased risk of attention-deficit and hyperactivity symptoms in children aged 3 to 10 years. This was the conclusion of a new study led by the Barcelona ...

Air pollution exposure on home-to-school walking routes reduces the development of working memory in children

October 6, 2017
A study led by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) has demonstrated that exposure to air pollution on the way to school can have damaging effects on children's cognitive development. The study, published ...

Living close to green spaces is associated with better attention in children

October 26, 2017
Natural surroundings, including green spaces, may be beneficial for brain development in children, but evidence is still limited. A previous ISGlobal study indicated that green spaces within and surrounding schools could ...

Living in greener neighborhoods is associated with slower cognitive decline in elderly

July 12, 2018
Contact with green space is known to have beneficial effects for mental health. A new study by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the "la Caixa" Foundation, suggests that it may also ...

Air pollution linked to brain alterations and cognitive impairment in children

March 8, 2018
A new study performed in the Netherlands has linked exposure to residential air pollution during fetal life with brain abnormalities that may contribute to impaired cognitive function in school-age children. The study, published ...

Air pollution linked to slower cognitive development in children

March 3, 2015
Attendance at schools exposed to high levels of traffic-related air pollution is linked to slower cognitive development among 7-10-year-old children in Barcelona, according to a study published by Jordi Sunyer and colleagues ...

Recommended for you

Stepfathers' 'Cinderella effect' challenged by new study

September 24, 2018
Long-held assumptions that stepfathers are far more likely to be responsible for child deaths than genetic parents have been challenged by researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA).

India launches 'Modicare', world's biggest health scheme

September 23, 2018
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday launched the world's biggest health insurance scheme, promising free coverage for half a billion of India's poorest citizens ahead of national elections next year.

Fatty acids can slow down an overheated immune system

September 21, 2018
Sometimes, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's healthy tissue by responding to infections that do not exist. This causes chronic inflammation and leads to diseases including lupus (SLE), and this is what happens ...

Study shows surprise low-level ozone impact on asthma patients

September 21, 2018
A new study led by UNC School of Medicine researchers indicates that ozone has a greater impact on asthma patients than previously thought. The study, published in the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology, recruited ...

Patient-centered visual aid helps physicians discuss risks, treatments with parents

September 21, 2018
A series of illustrations and charts designed as decision aids for parents of children with minor head injuries helped them communicate with emergency medicine physicians and make informed decisions about their child's care, ...

Alcohol responsible for one in 20 deaths worldwide: WHO

September 21, 2018
Alcohol kills three million people worldwide each year—more than AIDS, violence and road accidents combined, the World Health Organization said Friday, adding that men are particularly at risk.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.