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BioMed Research International
Volume 2014 (2014), Article ID 736385, 8 pages
Review Article

Neurotoxicants Are in the Air: Convergence of Human, Animal, and In Vitro Studies on the Effects of Air Pollution on the Brain

1Department of Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington, 4225 Roosevelt, Suite No. 100, Seattle, WA 98105, USA
2Department of Neuroscience, University of Parma, Via Volturno 39, 43100 Parma, Italy
3Center on Human Development and Disability, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA

Received 6 November 2013; Revised 23 December 2013; Accepted 24 December 2013; Published 12 January 2014

Academic Editor: Ambuja Bale

Copyright © 2014 Lucio G. Costa et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


In addition to increased morbidity and mortality caused by respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, air pollution may also negatively affect the brain and contribute to central nervous system diseases. Air pollution is a mixture comprised of several components, of which ultrafine particulate matter (UFPM; <100 nm) is of much concern, as these particles can enter the circulation and distribute to most organs, including the brain. A major constituent of ambient UFPM is represented by traffic-related air pollution, mostly ascribed to diesel exhaust (DE). Human epidemiological studies and controlled animal studies have shown that exposure to air pollution may lead to neurotoxicity. In addition to a variety of behavioral abnormalities, two prominent effects caused by air pollution are oxidative stress and neuroinflammation, which are seen in both humans and animals and are confirmed by in vitro studies. Among factors which can affect neurotoxic outcomes, age is considered the most relevant. Human and animal studies suggest that air pollution (and DE) may cause developmental neurotoxicity and may contribute to the etiology of neurodevelopmental disorders, including autistic spectrum disorders. In addition, air pollution exposure has been associated with increased expression of markers of neurodegenerative disease pathologies.