Air pollution is an important contributor to the global burden of disease, particularly to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases. In recent years, evidence is accumulating that air pollution may adversely affect the nervous system as shown by human epidemiological studies and by animal models. Age appears to play a relevant role in air pollution-induced neurotoxicity, with growing evidence suggesting that air pollution may contribute to neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative diseases. Traffic-related air pollution (e.g. diesel exhaust) is an important contributor to urban air pollution, and fine and ultrafine particulate matter (PM) may possibly be its more relevant component. Air pollution is associated with increased oxidative stress and inflammation both in the periphery and in the nervous system, and fine and ultrafine PM can directly access the central nervous system. This short review focuses on the adverse effects of air pollution on the developing brain; it discusses some characteristics that make the developing brain more susceptible to toxic effects, and summarizes the animal and human evidence suggesting that exposure to elevated air pollution is associated with a number of behavioral and biochemical adverse effects. It also discusses more in detail the emerging evidence of an association between perinatal exposure to air pollution and increased risk of autism spectrum disorder. Some of the common mechanisms that may underlie the neurotoxicity and developmental neurotoxicity of air pollution are also discussed. Considering the evidence presented in this review, any policy and legislative effort aimed at reducing air pollution would be protective of children's well-being.
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