Study Shows Air Pollution Makes Genetic Changes in the Brain
Coarse particles and heavy metals can activate disease-causing genes.
There’s little question that air pollution is toxic for the human body. Studies have shown that particulate matter in the air can lead to lung disease, heart disease, strokes, and lung cancer. But researchers thought the brain might be protected due to the blood brain barrier—a natural system that filters out foreign substances and certain neurotransmitters before they circulate in the brain. A new study from researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles shows that many heavy metals found in the air may make it into brain tissue, and those pollutants are activating genes that may lead to cancers or neurodegenerative disorders.
In a research paper appearing in the journal Scientific Reports, experiments were conducted over 12 months by doctor Julia Ljubimova, director of the Nanomedicine Research Center at Cedars-Sinai, with rats inhaling air with the same chemical makeup as that found in Riverside, California, in order to understand how air pollution impacts the brain.
“Initially I was even skeptical we could find anything. For example, a smoker has to smoke 20 years to develop lung cancer,” Ljubimova says, “so I was not sure that in three, six, or 12 months of exposure we would detect changes in these animals’ brains at the genomic level. I was very, very surprised when we found so many changes.”
Julia Y. Ljubimova, Oliver Braubach, Rameshwar Patil, Antonella Chiechi, Jie Tang, Anna Galstyan, Ekaterina S. Shatalova, Michael T. Kleinman, Keith L. Black & Eggehard Holler (2017) Coarse particulate matter (PM2.5–10) in Los Angeles Basin air induces expression of infammation and cancer biomarkers in rat brains. Published online www.nauture.com Scientific Reports, 09 April 2018.