The study was not conducted on humans. Rather, researchers used mice that had been exposed to concentrated ambient ultrafine particles to prove that pollution can negatively affect the central nervous system.
Specific conditions that the study links pollution to include: cognitive decline, autism, schizophrenia, and depression.
Although the study involved mice, researchers concluded that, “Our findings suggest alteration of developmentally important neurochemicals and lateral ventricle dilation may be mechanistically related to observations linking ambient air pollutant exposure and adverse neurological/neurodevelopmental outcome in humans.” In other words, the biological effect of pollution in mice is likely to be similar to what occurs in humans.
The mice in the study were exposed to air samples similar to what is found in Los Angeles, Atlanta, New York City, and Boston. Following the exposure, the mice developed permanent inflammation and a specific neurotransmitter that is typically found in patients with schizophrenia or autism.
Lead researcher of the study, Deborah Cory-Slechta, professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center, hopes that her research will lead to change in environmental regulations.
In USA Today she states, “… maybe in terms of looking at levels of air pollution, maybe we should focus on monitoring of the ultrafine particles that are there,” Cory-Slechta said.
While the government does currently set guidelines and tests for large particle sources of pollution, they do not consider the smaller particles researched in this study. These particles may not be a danger to the lungs, but they are capable of entering the blood stream.
Although the research clearly shows a link between ultra fine particle pollution and certain diseases, Cory-Slechta insists that pollution is not necessarily the cause:
“I never use the word ’causes.’ I try to make people understand it’s the interaction of all these risk factors in your life, over your lifespan that come together.”
Currently, there are no clear causes for autism and schizophrenia. There are multiple causes for cognitive decline and depression.