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Health + Fitness

May 31, 2020 - Chemical and Engineering News

How air pollution messes with our minds

How air pollution messes with our minds
Smog, BangkokFile Photo / © Photabulous!

Air pollution inflames the brain, sparking reactions that lead to diseases such as dementia and autism

Neurotoxicologist Deborah Cory-Slechta had a somewhat macabre introduction to her current area of research. In 2012, a colleague at the University of Rochester kept pestering her, “You have to look at these brains!”

Günter Oberdörster studies air pollution, and he wanted Cory-Slechta to examine the brains of mice he had raised in a polluted atmosphere—specifically, a chamber filled with particles that mimic the traffic-related air pollution permeating major cities. Cory-Slechta was already known for studying the effects of neurotoxic chemicals like lead and pesticides on the brain. That’s why Oberdörster came to her. She hadn’t considered that inhaling polluted air could also cause significant brain damage, but when she looked at the brains, she was stunned. The exposed mice had brains full of inflammation and structural abnormalities. “I couldn’t find a single one that was normal,” Cory-Slechta recalls.

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