Air pollution and your brain: what do you need to know right now

Prim Health Care Res Dev. 2015 Jul;16(4):329-45. doi: 10.1017/S146342361400036X. Epub 2014 Sep 26.


Research links air pollution mostly to respiratory and cardiovascular disease. The effects of air pollution on the central nervous system (CNS) are not broadly recognized. Urban outdoor pollution is a global public health problem particularly severe in megacities and in underdeveloped countries, but large and small cities in the United States and the United Kingom are not spared. Fine and ultrafine particulate matter (UFPM) defined by aerodynamic diameter (<2.5-μm fine particles, PM2.5, and <100-nm UFPM) pose a special interest for the brain effects given the capability of very small particles to reach the brain. In adults, ambient pollution is associated to stroke and depression, whereas the emerging picture in children show significant systemic inflammation, immunodysregulation at systemic, intratechal and brain levels, neuroinflammation and brain oxidative stress, along with the main hallmarks of Alzheimer and Parkinson's diseases: hyperphosphorilated tau, amyloid plaques and misfolded α-synuclein. Animal models exposed to particulate matter components show markers of both neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration. Epidemiological, cognitive, behavioral and mechanistic studies into the association between air pollution exposures and the development of CNS damage particularly in children are of pressing importance for public health and quality of life. Primary health providers have to include a complete prenatal and postnatal environmental and occupational history to indoor and outdoor toxic hazards and measures should be taken to prevent or reduce further exposures.

Keywords: children; cognition and mood effects; neurodegeneration; neuroinflammation; particulate matter; stroke and depression; urban air pollution.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Brain Diseases / etiology*
  • Brain Diseases / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Particulate Matter / adverse effects
  • United Kingdom
  • United States


  • Particulate Matter