Air Pollution Linked to Autism Spectrum Disorder, Says Study

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Written By: Jim Greenberg

Exposure to air pollution increases the risk of developing autism among young people who carry a genetic disposition toward it, reveals new research.

3850912033Analysis of the study “Childhood Autism Risks from Genetics and the Environment” finds that children with a particular gene variant who are exposed to air pollution are at higher risk of developing autism.

Researchers at the Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California (USC), analyzed data from the Childhood Autism Risks for Genetics and the Environment study. That study included 408 California pre-schoolers between the ages of two and five. Of those 408 children, 252 met the genetic criteria for autism (genetic markers found through blood tests), and many had been exposed to air pollution based on where they lived, local traffic reports, and regional air quality measures.

Overall results showed that children who carried the genetic marker for autism and were exposed to air pollution had an increased risk of developing the disorder.

“Our research shows that children with both the risk genotype and exposure to high air-pollutant levels were at increased risk of autism spectrum disorder compared to those without the risk genotype and lower air pollution exposure”, says Heather Volk, one of the authors of the study.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), one in 88 children has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). ASD is a neurodevelopment disorder that can lead to social-interaction and communication problems and engagement in self-soothing repetitive behaviors.

The new study, to be published in January 2014 in the journal Epidemiology, reveals how environmental conditions can influence whether or not a person develops ASD.

“This is the first demonstration of a specific interaction between a well-established genetic risk factor and an environmental factor that independently contribute to autism risk”, says Daniel Campbell, lead author of the study.

In recent years, research has also established links between air pollution and certain diseases, including restricted fetal growth in pregnant women and an increased risk of cancer.