Acute versus Chronic Exposures to Inhaled Particulate Matter and Neurocognitive Dysfunction: Pathways to Alzheimer's Disease or a Related Dementia

J Alzheimers Dis. 2020;78(3):871-886. doi: 10.3233/JAD-200679.


An estimated 92% of the world's population live in regions where people are regularly exposed to high levels of anthropogenic air pollution. Historically, research on the effects of air pollution have focused extensively on cardiovascular and pulmonary health. However, emerging evidence from animal and human studies has suggested that chronic exposures to air pollution detrimentally change the functioning of the central nervous system with the result being proteinopathy, neurocognitive impairment, and neurodegenerative disease. Case analyses of aging World Trade Center responders suggests that a single severe exposure may also induce a neuropathologic response. The goal of this report was to explore the neuroscientific support for the hypothesis that inhaled particulate matter might cause an Alzheimer's-like neurodegenerative disease, in order to consider proposed mechanisms and latency periods linking inhaled particulate matter and neurodegeneration, and to propose new directions in this line of research.

Keywords: Cognitive impairment; World Trade Center; dementia; exposures; inhalations; neurodegeneration; neuroinflammation; particulate matter; pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants
  • Alzheimer Disease / epidemiology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / metabolism
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides / metabolism
  • Atrophy
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / epidemiology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / metabolism
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / pathology
  • Dementia / epidemiology*
  • Dust*
  • Emergency Responders / statistics & numerical data
  • Gray Matter / pathology
  • Humans
  • Inflammation
  • Inhalation Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / epidemiology
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / metabolism
  • Neurocognitive Disorders / pathology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / epidemiology
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / metabolism
  • Neurodegenerative Diseases / pathology
  • Neurofibrillary Tangles / pathology
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data
  • Particulate Matter*
  • September 11 Terrorist Attacks
  • Time Factors


  • Air Pollutants
  • Amyloid beta-Peptides
  • Dust
  • Particulate Matter