PURPOSE OF REVIEW: Epidemiological and animal studies suggest that air pollution may negatively affect the central nervous system (CNS) and contribute to CNS diseases. Traffic-related air pollution is a major contributor to global air pollution, and diesel exhaust (DE) is its most important component.RECENT FINDINGS: Several studies suggest that young individuals may be particularly susceptible to air pollution-induced neurotoxicity and that perinatal exposure may cause or contribute to developmental disabilities and behavioral abnormalities. In particular, a number of recent studies have found associations between exposures to traffic-related air pollution and autism spectrum disorders (ASD), which are characterized by impairment in socialization and in communication and by the presence of repetitive and unusual behaviors. The cause(s) of ASD are unknown, and while it may have a hereditary component, environmental factors are increasingly suspected as playing a pivotal role in its etiology, particularly in genetically susceptible individuals. Autistic children present higher levels of neuroinflammation and systemic inflammation, which are also hallmarks of exposure to traffic-related air pollution. Gene-environment interactions may play a relevant role in determining individual susceptibility to air pollution developmental neurotoxicity. Given the worldwide presence of elevated air pollution, studies on its effects and mechanisms on the developing brain, genetic susceptibility, role in neurodevelopmental disorders, and possible therapeutic interventions are certainly warranted.
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