Air pollution from cars and trucks increases Alzheimer’s risk two ways

Researchers have found a link between traffic-related air pollution and an increased risk for age-related dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease…

Pamela Lein worked with atmospheric scientist Anthony Wexler…to develop a novel approach to study the impacts of traffic-related air pollution in real time. Researchers set up a rodent vivarium near a traffic tunnel in Northern California so they could mimic, as closely as possible, what humans might experience from traffic-related air pollution…

The researchers exposed male and female rats for up to 14 months to filtered air or polluted air drawn from the tunnel and delivered it to animals unchanged in real time. The subjects were divided into two groups: wild type rats and those that express Alzheimer’s disease risk genes that are relevant to humans…

“We saw that traffic-related air pollution accelerated Alzheimer’s disease characteristics not only in the animals who express the risk gene (which we anticipated) but also in the wild type rats,” Lein says.

“We didn’t anticipate that. The big, exciting discovery is that traffic-related air pollution is a risk factor for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease. This is important because this pollution is everywhere and could explain the increased number of people impacted by Alzheimer’s disease across the world.”

What remains unclear is which component of that pollution is predominately responsible for the effects on the brain. There are gases, particulate matter, road dust, tire wear, vibration, and noise involved in traffic-related air pollution.

“The next set of studies is to try and tease apart specific components of traffic-related air pollution that drive these Alzheimer’s disease traits,” Lein says. “Or is it the collective mix that causes the damage?”

The good news is that these studies provide a baseline comparison for traffic pollution after we complete the changeover to electric vehicles. Then we can finish the task by reducing elements other than vehicle power-plants causing pollution.

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