Prenatal Exposure To Air Pollutants May Produce Structural Brain Abnormalities

Dr. Bradley S. Peterson, M.D Director of the Institute for the Developing Mind The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Children’s Hospital Los AngelesMedicalResearch.com Interview with:
Dr. Bradley S. Peterson, M.D
Director of the Institute for the Developing Mind
The Saban Research Institute of Children’s Hospital
Los Angeles Children’s Hospital Los Angeles

Medical Research: What is the background for this study?

Dr. Peterson: Neurotoxic PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are ubiquitous in the environment, in the home and in the workplace. Emissions from motor vehicles, oil and coal burning for home heating or power generation, wildfires and agricultural burning, hazardous waste sites, tobacco smoke and charred foods are all sources of exposure. PAH readily crosses the placenta and affects an unborn child’s brain; earlier animal studies showed that prenatal exposure impaired the development of behavior, learning and memory. Our group previously reported that exposure to airborne PAH during gestation was associated with multiple neurodevelopmental disturbances, including development delay by age 3, reduced verbal IQ at age 5, and symptoms of anxiety and depression at age 7.

Medical Research: What are the main findings?

Dr. Peterson: Together with Virginia Rauh, ScD and Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD of Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, we conducted a brain imaging study to test the effects on brain structure of PAH exposure during the final trimester of pregnancy.  We used magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure the brains of 40 children from a cohort of more than 600 mother-baby pairs from minority communities in New York City. These 40 children were carefully selected to have no other exposures that would affect brain development. Our findings showed that prenatal PAH exposure led to reductions in nearly the entire white matter surface of the brain’s left hemisphere – losses that were associated with slower processing of information during intelligence testing and more severe behavioral problems, including ADHD and aggression.  Postnatal PAH exposure – measured at age 5 – was found to contribute to additional disturbances in development of white matter in the dorsal prefrontal region of the brain, a portion of the brain that supports concentration, reasoning, judgment, and problem-solving ability. Continue reading