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Inhaled toxic particles take direct route from lungs to brain

Overview: Breathing air pollution can cause toxic particles to be transported through the bloodstream from the lungs to the brain, eventually resulting in neurological damage.

Source: University of Birmingham

Breathing polluted air can cause toxic particles to be transported from the lungs to the brain, through the bloodstream, potentially contributing to brain disorders and neurological damage, a new study reveals.

Scientists have discovered a possible direct route used by various inhaled fine particles through the bloodstream, with evidence that once there, the particles remain in the brain longer than in other major metabolic organs.

An international team of experts from the University of Birmingham and research institutions in China published their findings today in: PNAS.

The scientists revealed that they had found several fine particles in human cerebrospinal fluids taken from patients who had suffered brain disorders — revealing a process that can lead to toxic particles entering the brain.

Co-author Professor Iseult Lynch, from the University of Birmingham, noted: “There are gaps in our knowledge about the harmful effects of airborne fine particles on the central nervous system. This work sheds new light on the link between inhalation of particles and how they subsequently move through the body.

This shows the outline of a human body
Recent evidence has shown 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. Image is in the public domain

“The data suggest that up to eight times the number of fine particles can reach the brain by traveling through the bloodstream from the lungs than directly through the nose – adding new evidence about the relationship between air pollution and harmful effects of such particles on the brain. ”

Air pollution is a cocktail of many toxic components, but particulate matter (PM, especially fine particles from the environment such as PM2.5 and PM0.1), are most concerning in terms of causing adverse health effects. Ultra-fine particles, in particular, can escape the body’s protective systems, including sentinel cells and biological barriers.

Recent evidence has shown 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.

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The team of scientists found that inhaled particles can enter the bloodstream after crossing the air-blood barrier and eventually reach the brain, leading to damage to the brain-blood barrier and surrounding tissues. Once in the brain, the particles were difficult to remove and retained longer than in other organs.

Their findings provide new evidence demonstrating the risks of particulate pollution to the central nervous system, but the researchers recommend that more research is needed into the mechanics of how inhaled fine particles from the environment reach the brain.

About this neuroscience research news

Author: Tony Moran
Source: University of Birmingham
Contact: Tony Moran – University of Birmingham
Image: The image is in the public domain

Original research: The findings appear in PNAS

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