Prenatal exposure to pollutants affects brain development in children

Research started by the University of Colorado Boulder in 2016 has concluded that prenatal exposure to ambient air pollutants negatively impacted neurodevelopment in the children by the time they had reached the age of two.

The study followed 161 Latino women through their pregnancies in Southern California, monitoring their exposure to PM2.5, PM10 and NOon a month-by-month basis throughout their pregnancies. Across the nine months, average ambient PM2.5 levels were 11.86(µg/m3);  PM10 levels 29.6(µg/m3) and NO2 17.85ppb. On reaching the age of two, the children’s neurodevelopment was assessed using a system (BSID-III) which measured their cognitive, motor and language functions.

silhouette photography of pregnant woman near window

The results revealed that the mother’s exposure to higher than average levels of PM2.5 – and in particular PM10 – had a notably detrimental impact on the child’s cognitive and language scores when higher exposure occurred in the later months of pregnancy (between five months and term), producing results the team describe as statistically significant. Similarly, the effect of PM10 was also shown to be detrimental to the children’s motor scores.

At this stage of a foetus’ development many significant events such as circuit formation and myelination – relating to the development of cognitive and motor functions – are beginning to take place and are known to be prone to disruption by environmental exposures.

It has not been fully established what mechanisms come into play by which pollutants affect a foetus but we reported in October that black carbon particles had been found in unborn babies, a revelation that followed a report a June in which a study using mice demonstrated how exposure to traffic-related air pollutants causes cellular changes in the placenta.

If you would like to read the full paper click here.

Image:  Camila Cordeiro



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