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Air Pollution – Smoggy Skies Linked to Depression and Cognitive Declines

Researchers in Ohio say it’s not only our lungs that suffer as urban skies grow hazier – Intelligence and happiness are also at risk.

Laboratory mice exposed for half a lifespan to polluted air that is similar in character to the air of a large polluted urban environment are more likely to experience anxiety and depression and perform more poorly on tests of learning and memory than mice that spent that same time period breathing in clean air.

When the researchers examined the brains of the affected mice, they found structural changes in the area of the brain responsible for much of mood and memory function; the hippocampus. The affected mice had reduced cell complexity in the hippocampus as well as shorter dendrites (connectors between cells) and overall inflammation across the area – all brain changes that have been shown in other studies to negatively affect learning and memory.

Lead researcher and Ohio State University doctoral candidate Laura Fonken commented on the significance of the results, saying, “The results suggest prolonged exposure to polluted air can have visible, negative effects on the brain, which can lead to a variety of health problems. This could have important and troubling implications for people who live and work in polluted urban areas around the world."

Previous research studies have shown that breathing in polluted city air increases the risks for diabetes, obesity and cardiac conditions.

The full study results can be read in this week’s online edition of journal Molecular Psychiatry.

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