Pollution’s Potential Role in Autism Development

Recently, there has been a great deal of discussion about the environment’s role in the development of Autism. While environmental factors such as air pollution have been studied, researchers from the University of Rochester have uncovered the biological mechanism that may explain how pollution plays a significant role in the development of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Previously, scientists focused on pollution’s effects on the heart and lungs, but they are becoming increasingly active in studying the various effects of pollution on the brain. Deborah Cory-Slechta, professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester, and leader of this study, stated, “I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that the adverse things happening there are also happening in the brain, and this may be adding to risks for neurodevelopmental disorders like Autism that we hadn’t thought about before”.

For their experiment, Cory-Slechta and her colleagues used a group of baby mice and exposed them to the pollutants that are most prevalent in rush hour traffic. The mice were exposed to the pollutants for over four hours during two four-day intervals, and were found to have significant behavioral changes.

Cory-Slechta stated, “”We saw changes in learning produced by these exposures in males and females, and we saw deficits in memory in both males and females.”  She continued, “We also had a measure of attention, looking at impulsive-like behaviors, which we only tested in males, and there too we saw the effects of postnatal exposure.” Cory-Slechta and her team noticed that the effects were not short-term; the mice exposed to polluted air had significant behavioral differences from the control group, more than ten months after the experiment was conducted.

The brains of the mice exposed to polluted air had experienced inflammation in parts of the brain associated with processing cognitive behaviors, social behaviors, and emotional behaviors. This study gives further evidence to the idea that Autism is not solely based on genetics. Cory-Slechta states, “[It] has been very difficult to discover the ideology of Autism, so to speak, as we know there are genetic underpinnings but they don’t fully account for [everything], and the leads in terms of, ‘Are there environmental exposures?’ have been relatively few. It might be interesting if it turns out air pollution can contribute.”

The ICare4Autism International Conference will be discussing additional medical research and scientific advances in NYC on July 1st. Speakers include Dr. Alisa Woods, Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry and Biomolecular Science at Clarkson University, and Member of the ICare4Autism Advisory Council. Dr. Woods will be giving an informative presentation on protein biomarkers in Autism disorders. To hear Dr. Woods speak, please select tickets here. Early bird ticket specials are still available, so now is the best time to register! This is an Autism conference you will not want to miss!

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