A new study has shown that common levels of traffic pollution can impair human brain function in only a matter of hours. The study was the first to show in a controlled experiment using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) that exposure to diesel exhaust disrupts the ability of different areas of the human brain to interact and communicate with each other.
The peer-reviewed findings, published in the journal Environmental Health, show that just two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust causes a decrease in the brain's functional connectivity -- a measure of how The study provides the first evidence in humans, from a controlled experiment, of altered brain network connectivity induced by air pollution.
"For many decades, scientists thought the brain may be protected from the harmful effects of air pollution," said senior study author Dr. Chris Carlsten, professor and head of respiratory medicine and the Canada Research Chair in occupational and environmental lung disease at UBC. "This study, which is the first of its kind in the world, provides fresh evidence supporting a connection between air pollution and cognition."
For the study, the researchers briefly exposed 25 healthy adults to diesel exhaust and filtered air at different times in a laboratory setting. Brain activity was measured before and after each exposure using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI).
The researchers analyzed changes in the brain's default mode network (DMN), a set of inter-connected brain regions that play an important role in memory and internal thought. The fMRI revealed that participants had decreased functional connectivity in widespread regions of the DMN after exposure to diesel exhaust, compared to filtered air.
"We know that altered functional connectivity in the DMN has been associated with reduced cognitive performance and symptoms of depression, so it's concerning to see traffic pollution interrupting these same networks," said Dr. Jodie Gawryluk, a psychology professor at the University of Victoria and the study's first author. "While more research is needed to fully understand the functional impacts of these changes, it's possible that they may impair people's thinking or ability to work." (ANI)