Air Pollution and Neuropsychological Development: A Review of the Latest Evidence

Endocrinology. 2015 Oct;156(10):3473-82. doi: 10.1210/en.2015-1403. Epub 2015 Aug 4.


For the last decade, literature on the detrimental impacts of air pollution on brain, cognition and behavior has exponentially increased. Our aim is to review the latest epidemiologic literature on the association between outdoor air pollution and neuropsychological developmental in children. Two independent researchers searched for published studies between January 1, 2012 and June 12, 2015 in MEDLINE, Web of Science, and Science direct using defined keywords on outdoor air pollution and neuropsychological development. Selection of articles was based on study eligibility criteria. We encountered sufficient evidence of detrimental effects of pre- or postnatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons on global intelligence quotient. The evidence was also sufficient for the association between pre- or postnatal exposure to fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and autism spectrum disorder, and limited evidence was encountered between nitrogen oxides and autism spectrum disorder. For other exposure-outcome associations reviewed, the evidence was inadequate or insufficient. Although evidence is not yet conclusive and further research is needed, the latest epidemiological studies support the hypothesis that pre- or postnatal exposure to ambient pollution, particularly polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, PM2.5, and nitrogen oxides has a negative impact on the neuropsychological development of children. The public health impact of air pollutants cannot be ignored and the precautionary principle should be applied to protect children.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Air Pollution
  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / etiology
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / etiology
  • Child
  • Child Development / drug effects*
  • Cognition
  • Developmental Biology
  • Developmental Disabilities / physiopathology
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Nitrogen Oxides / metabolism
  • Particulate Matter
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / chemistry
  • Pregnancy
  • Prenatal Exposure Delayed Effects


  • Air Pollutants
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Particulate Matter
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons