Exposure to traffic-related air pollution, particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide during pregnancy and during the first year of a child's life appears to be associated with an increased risk of autism, according to a new study.
Autism is a diverse disorder with genetic and environmental factors likely contributing to its origins. Autism spectrum disorders are commonly characterized by problems in communication, social interaction and repetitive behaviours.
Emerging evidence suggests the environment plays a role in autism, but only limited information is available about what exposures are relevant, their mechanisms of action, the stages in development in which they act and the development of effective of preventive measures, the researchers write in the study background.
Heather E. Volk, Ph.D., M.P.H., of the University of Southern California, and colleagues examined the relationship between traffic-related air pollution, air quality and autism in a study that included data obtained from 279 children with autism and control group of 245 children with typical development who were enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment study in California.
"Exposures to traffic-related air pollution, PM [particulate matter] and nitrogen dioxide were associated with an increased risk of autism. These effects were observed using measures of air pollution with variation on both local and regional levels, suggesting the need for further study to understand both individual pollutant contributions and the effects of pollutant mixtures on disease," the researchers said.
The researchers used mothers' addresses to estimate exposure for each pregnancy trimester and for a child's first year of life. Traffic-related air pollution was estimated based on a model and regional air pollutant measures were based on the Environmental Protection Agency's Air Quality System data.
Children living in homes with the highest levels of modeled traffic-related air pollution were three times as likely to have autism compared with children living in homes with the lowest exposure. The higher levels of exposure to particulate matter less than 2.5 and 10 um in diameter PM 2.5, PM 10 and nitrogen dioxide based on the EPA's regional air quality monitoring program were associated with an increased risk of autism.
"Research on the effects of exposure to pollutants and their interaction with susceptibility factors may lead to the identification of the biologic pathways that are activated in autism and to improved prevention and therapeutic strategies. Although additional research to replicate these findings is needed, the public health implications of these findings are large because air pollution exposure is common and may have lasting neurological effects," the researchers concluded.
The finding was published Online First by Archives of General Psychiatry, a JAMA Network publication. (ANI)