Air pollution exposure during foetal life linked with impaired cognitive functions

A child could grow up with impaired cognitive functions if their mother was exposed to air pollution during pregnancy, a new study suggests.

According to the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) in Spain and the Erasmus University Medical Center of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, air pollution exposure during foetal life can lead to a number of brain abnormalities.

The study, published in Biological Psychiatry, said this can result in children experiencing problems with inhibitory control and struggling to regulate self-control over temptations and impulsive behaviour.

Researchers stated that this is related to other mental health problems such as addictive tendencies and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Interestingly, the air pollution levels related to the brain alterations identified in the study were found to be within what are generally considered to be safe.

Dr Mònica Guxens, lead author and researcher at ISGlobal and the Erasmus University Medical Center, commented: "Therefore, we cannot warrant the safety of the current levels of air pollution in our cities."

She went on to point out that while specific individual clinical implications of these findings cannot be quantified, based on other studies, the observed cognitive delays at early ages could have "significant long-term consequences".

Indeed, Dr Guxens said the ubiquity of the exposure increases the risk of "mental health disorders and low academic achievement".

The research pointed out that the foetal brain is especially vulnerable to air pollution as it has not yet developed the mechanisms to protect against or remove environmental toxins.

Exposure to fine particles at this stage of development was linked with a thinner cortex in several areas of both hemispheres of the brain.

The findings were based on an assessment of air pollution levels at home during the gestation of 783 children, who then underwent brain imaging to assess brain morphology when they were between six and ten years of age.ADNFCR-2094-ID-801845447-ADNFCR