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Air pollution linked to more signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain

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People exposed to polluted air were more likely to experience symptoms associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study conducted by American scientists. Researchers looked at the concentration of PM2.5 suspended dust particles associated with road traffic.

According to a study published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology, people exposed to polluted air generated by traffic were more likely to have high amounts of amyloid plaques in the brain after death. These plaques, also called senile plaques, are structural changes in brain cells that are observed, among others, in Alzheimer’s disease. However, the researchers note that the study does not prove that air pollution causes more of these types of plaques in the brain. It only shows this relationship.

– These results add to the evidence that fine particulate matter from road traffic-related air pollution affects the amount of amyloid plaques in the brain – said study author Dr. Anke Huels from Emory University in Atlanta. “Further research is needed to explore the mechanisms behind this association,” she added.

Dangerous suspended dustPAP/Maria Samczuk, Adam Ziemienowicz

They examined over 200 deceased people

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For the study, scientists analyzed brain tissue from 224 people who agreed to have their brains examined after death. The age of the examined deceased was on average 76 years.

The researchers looked at exposure to traffic-related air pollution by residential address in the Atlanta area at the time of the subjects’ death. They note that traffic-related PM2.5 concentrations are a major source of pollution in urban areas such as the Atlanta metropolitan area, where most of the donors lived. They found that the average exposure level in the year before death was 1.32 micrograms per cubic meter (µg/m3) and 1.35 µg/m3 in the three years before his death.

The researchers then compared exposure to pollutants with measures of Alzheimer’s disease symptoms in the brain: amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. They found that people with higher exposure to air pollution in the year and three years before death were more likely to have higher levels of amyloid plaques in the brain. People with exposure to PM2.5 dust higher than 1 µg/m3 in the year before death were almost twice as likely to have higher levels of plaque, while those with higher exposure in the three years before death were 87 percent more likely to have higher levels of plaque.

Short-term health effects of exposure to air pollutionPolish Smog Alert

Pollution and Alzheimer’s disease

The researchers also tested whether having the main variant of the Alzheimer’s disease gene – APOE e4 – had any effect on the link between air pollution and signs of Alzheimer’s disease in the brain. The study found that the strongest association between air pollution and signs of Alzheimer’s disease occurred in people without the gene variant.

“This suggests that environmental factors, such as air pollution, may be a contributing factor to the development of Alzheimer’s disease in patients whose disease cannot be explained genetically,” Huels said.

The researchers add that a limitation of the study is that it only had the people’s home addresses at the time of their death to measure air pollution, so it is possible that exposure to pollutants could have been misclassified. The study also included mostly white people who were highly educated, so the results may not be representative of other populations.

sciencedaily.com, American Academy of Neurology

Main photo source: Shutterstock

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