Can Air Pollution Cause Behavioral Problems?

Alan R. Jacobs, MD


May 19, 2015

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This is the Medscape Neurology Minute. I am Dr Alan Jacobs. Researcher Dr Bradley S. Peterson, from the Los Angeles Saban Research Institute, and colleagues have published a cross-sectional imaging study that evaluates the effects of prenatal air pollutant exposure to the ubiquitous polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)[1] on brain structure and cognitive and behavioral functions in urban school-aged children.[2]

A retrospective cohort of 40 urban youths was followed up prospectively from the fetal period to ages 7-9 years. Morphologic measures of the brain surface and the white matter surface were obtained.

The researchers detected a dose-response relationship between increased third-trimester PAH exposure and reductions of white matter surface in childhood. The white matter reductions were confined almost exclusively to the left cerebral hemisphere. Those reductions were associated with slower information processing speed during intelligence testing and with more severe externalizing behavioral problems, including attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms and conduct disorder problems.

The significant association of PAH exposure with slower processing speed was mediated by the magnitude of left hemisphere white matter disturbance.

The authors concluded that prenatal exposure to PAH air pollutants contributes to slower processing speed, ADHD symptoms, and conduct problems in urban youth by disrupting the development of left hemisphere white matter.

This has been the Medscape Neurology Minute. I'm Dr Alan Jacobs.


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