One of the major factors impacting global health is air pollution, exposure to which can aggravate the condition of people with respiratory disease as well as cause heart conditions and increased risk of stroke.

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is responsible for millions of deaths every year globally.

A new study now suggests that air pollution may also impact the metabolic and neurological development of children. Conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, the study examined the link between exposure to traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) and childhood anxiety.

Kelly Brunst, Ph.D., who led the study, says that the central nervous system is particularly vulnerable to air pollution, which could cause mental disorders such as anxiety or depression. Brunst is assistant professor in the Department of Environmental Health at the College of Medicine.

She explained that they used neuroimaging to evaluate TRAP exposure, metabolite dysregulation in the brain and generalised anxiety symptoms among otherwise healthy children. The imaging results of 145 children, aged about 12 years, were examined where researchers looked specifically at the levels of myo-inositol found in the brain through a specialised MRI technique called magnetic resonance spectroscopy.

A naturally-occurring metabolite mainly found in specialised brain cells known as glial cells, myo-inositol assists with maintaining cell volume and fluid balance in the brain, and serves as a regulator for hormones and insulin in the body. Any increase in myo-inositol levels correlates with a corresponding increase in the population of glial cells, which often occurs during inflammation.

Those children showing significant increases of myo-inositol in the brain were exposed to higher levels of TRAP. They also displayed more generalised anxiety symptoms; however, Brunst noted that the observed increase in anxiety was relatively small and not likely to result in a clinical diagnosis of an anxiety disorder. 

Image: Reader's Digest