Air pollution and brain damage

Toxicol Pathol. May-Jun 2002;30(3):373-89. doi: 10.1080/01926230252929954.


Exposure to complex mixtures of air pollutants produces inflammation in the upper and lower respiratory tract. Because the nasal cavity is a common portal of entry, respiratory and olfactory epithelia are vulnerable targets for toxicological damage. This study has evaluated, by light and electron microscopy and immunohistochemical expression of nuclear factor-kappa beta (NF-kappaB) and inducible nitric oxide synthase (iNOS), the olfactory and respiratory nasal mucosae, olfactory bulb, and cortical and subcortical structures from 32 healthy mongrel canine residents in Southwest Metropolitan Mexico City (SWMMC), a highly polluted urban region. Findings were compared to those in 8 dogs from Tlaxcala, a less polluted, control city. In SWMMC dogs, expression of nuclear neuronal NF-kappaB and iNOS in cortical endothelial cells occurred at ages 2 and 4 weeks; subsequent damage included alterations of the blood-brain barrier (BBB), degenerating cortical neurons, apoptotic glial white matter cells, deposition of apolipoprotein E (apoE)-positive lipid droplets in smooth muscle cells and pericytes, nonneuritic plaques, and neurofibrillary tangles. Persistent pulmonary inflammation and deteriorating olfactory and respiratory barriers may play a role in the neuropathology observed in the brains of these highly exposed canines. Neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's may begin early in life with air pollutants playing a crucial role.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Blood-Brain Barrier
  • Brain Diseases / chemically induced
  • Brain Diseases / etiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / blood supply
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects*
  • Cerebral Cortex / ultrastructure
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mexico
  • NF-kappa B / metabolism
  • Nasal Mucosa / drug effects
  • Neuroglia / drug effects
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase / metabolism
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II
  • Olfactory Bulb / drug effects*
  • Olfactory Mucosa / drug effects


  • Air Pollutants
  • NF-kappa B
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase
  • Nitric Oxide Synthase Type II