Air Pollution, the Aging Brain, and Dementia

 Another study finding a link between air pollution and negative health effects - this time a higher incidence of decline in cognitive functioning  and dementia in older women (65 and older) exposed to fine particles (PM2.5 ). These extremely small particles from vehicle emissions are a major source of urban air pollution throughout the world. These results match other studies finding a link with urban air pollution, especially vehicle traffic, to negative effects on the brain (dementia, cognitive decline, shrinking of the brain, etc.). The researchers also exposed mice to this air pollution for 15 weeks and then studied their brains for evidence of degenerative effects in their brains - and yes, they did find them.

The researchers found that the adverse effects of fine particulate air pollution was stronger in both women and mice who had the APOE4 gene, a genetic variation that increases the risk for Alzheimer's disease. They said that while the air pollution has negative effects in general, that having the APOE4 gene interacted with the air pollution. The researchers also wrote that the mice studies they did showed that "...exposure to urban airborne particulates can intensify amyloid accumulation and neurodegeneration". Medical Xpress:

Air pollution may lead to dementia in older women

Tiny air pollution particles—the type that mainly comes from power plants and automobiles—may greatly increase the chance of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease, according to USC-led research. Scientists and engineers found that older women who live in places with fine particulate matter exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's standard are 81 percent more at risk for global cognitive decline and 92 percent more likely to develop dementia, including Alzheimer's.

If their findings hold up in the general population, air pollution could be responsible for about 21 percent of dementia cases, according to the study. "Microscopic particles generated by fossil fuels get into our body directly through the nose into the brain," said University Professor Caleb Finch at the USC Leonard Davis School of Gerontology and co-senior author of the study. "Cells in the brain treat these particles as invaders and react with inflammatory responses, which over the course of time, appear to exacerbate and promote Alzheimer's disease.

The adverse effects were stronger in women who had the APOE4 gene, a genetic variation that increases the risk for Alzheimer's. "Our study .....provides the inaugural scientific evidence of a critical Alzheimer's risk gene possibly interacting with air particles to accelerate brain aging," said Jiu-Chiuan Chen, co-senior author of the study....[Their study] adds to an emerging body of research from around the world that links air pollution to dementia. The offending pollutants—known as PM2.5—are fine, inhalable particles with diameters 2.5 micrometers or smaller. A human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter, making it 30 times larger than the largest PM2.5. The researchers analyzed data of 3,647 65- to 79-year-old women from the Women's Health Initiative Memory Study (WHIMS). These women lived across 48 states and did not have dementia when they enrolled.

USC scientists chronically exposed female mice carrying the APOE4 gene to nano-sized air pollution for 15 weeks. Compared to the control group, mice predisposed to Alzheimer's disease accumulated as much as 60 percent more amyloid plaque, the toxic clusters of protein fragments that further the progression of Alzheimer's.

In other studies, Chen and his colleagues linked long-term exposure to high PM2.5 levels to smaller gray and white matter volumes in important areas such as the frontal lobe, which carries out thinking, decision-making and planning. For every 3.5 micrograms of PM2.5 per cubic meter of air, white matter (insulated nerve fibers that connect different brain regions) decreased by 6 cubic centimeters, according to one earlier study. [see post]

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