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Inhaled toxic air particles can pass from lung to brain and cause neurological damage, researchers discover

Published: 23 Jun 2022 05:11 GMT

Breathing polluted air could cause toxic particles to be transported from the lungs to the brain through the bloodstream, which could contribute to brain disorders and neurological damage, according to a new study involving researchers from the University of Birmingham (UK).

The authors of this work, which also includes scientists from China, claim to have found several fine particles in human cerebrospinal fluid taken from patients who had suffered brain disorders, revealing a process that can cause toxic substances in particulate form to end up in the brain.

“The data suggest that up to eight times more fine particles can reach the brain by traveling from the lungs, through the bloodstream, than by passing directly through the nose, adding new evidence about the link between air pollution and the detrimental effects of such particles on the brain,” said study co-author Iseult Lynch, a professor at the University of Birmingham.

Cocktail of toxic components

According to researchers, air pollution is a cocktail of many toxic components, but ultrafine particles are the most worrisome in terms of causing adverse health effects. These types of particles can escape the body’s protective systems, including sentinel immune cells and biological barriers.

This evidence would reveal a strong link between high levels of air pollution and marked neuroinflammation, Alzheimer’s-like changes and cognitive problems in older people and even children.

The scientists found that inhaled particles can enter the bloodstream, eventually reaching the brain and causing damage to the blood-brain barrier as well as surrounding tissues. Once in the brain, the particles are difficult to remove and are retained longer than in other major metabolic organs.

Although these results provide new evidence of the risks of particulate pollution to the central nervous system, the scientists recommend that more research is needed on the mechanics of how inhaled fine environmental particles reach the brain.

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