Air pollution and autism

February 14, 2019 | Ashlie Chandler
Traffic backed up underneath a bridge.

New DEOHS study shows how exposure to air pollution early in life may lead to autism

Cars idle in traffic on State Route 520 in Seattle. Photo: Oran Viriyincy via Flickr.

Exposure to diesel exhaust during pregnancy or in the early years of development could cause subtle changes in the structure of the cerebral cortex similar to those seen in the brains of autistic patients.

That’s according to a new research study from Professor Lucio Costa in the UW Department of Environmental & Occupational Health Sciences (DEOHS) and colleagues that was recently published in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunity.

An earlier UW study found that diesel exhaust exposure activates pathways consistent with autism-related behaviors.

Lucio Costa headshot
DEOHS Professor Lucio Costa

In this study, the team conducted mouse experiments to understand the biochemical and molecular changes that may underlie such changes in the brain’s structure.

“These studies provide an animal model that will allow further investigations on the biological plausibility for an association between air pollution and autism spectrum disorder,” Costa said.

Learn more about the study.

The research team also included DEOHS research scientist Toby Cole and colleagues from Seattle Children’s Research Institute and the UW School of Medicine.





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