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Air pollution can make kids behave badly

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

When wildfires started raging through southern California this month, Diana Younan warned her family members living in the path of the smoke to stay inside, as much as possible. Fires send air pollution levels soaring, filling the air with tiny particles. Younan, who studies environmental health at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, knows the damage those tiny particles can do.

“It’s very well known that air pollution can affect respiratory function or health. But it’s not as well known that it can also affect the brain,” says Younan. Over the past decade, scientists started to note mounting evidence that suggests inhaling polluted air is toxic to the brain. That is slowly being linked to behavior, particularly for children and adolescents.

It’s similar, Younan says, to the way childhood exposure to lead—which used to be used in paint and gas—was eventually connected to behavioral problems. Some scientists even suspect that the decline in crime seen in the U.S. (and many nations) since the 1990s can be connected to the removal of lead from gasoline. “Lead is what pioneered the whole research on environmental risk factors,” she says.

In an analysis of data from nearly 700 children, Younan and her team found that kids in Los Angeles who were exposed to more air pollution over the course of adolescence were more likely to engage in delinquent behavior. The research was published today in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology. It also found that the same amount of pollution exposure had a stronger effect on behavior when kids had bad relationships with their parents, or when their mothers exhibited signs of depression.

Deborah Cory-Slechta, a professor of environmental medicine at the University of Rochester who wasn't involved in the new study, started her career by looking at lead exposure. But in the past few years, she’s moved towards research on air pollution. At the beginning, she was skeptical that pollution could impact the brain. “But it was amazing what we started to find,” Cory-Slechta says. “Everyone has been surprised, to say the least, at how dramatic some of these effects can be.”

Cory-Slechta studies the effect of air pollution on animal models, and says that the behavioral changes she sees in those studies seem to match onto the type of delinquent behavior observed in Younan’s longitudinal study. “Even at relatively low levels of exposure [in animals], we see changes in behavior,” Cory-Slechta says. “Things like impulsivity, which can relate to delinquent behavior.”

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Cory-Slechta Named Distinguished Neurotoxicologist 2017

Monday, February 13, 2017

Photo of Dr. Deborah Cory-SlechtaThe Society of Toxicology (SOT) Neurotoxicology Specialty Section (NTSS) Awards Committee has selected Dr. Deborah Cory-Slechta as the recipient of the Distinguished Neurotoxicologist Award. This award will be presented at the NTSS Reception that will be held on Wednesday, March 15, 2017 at the Hilton Baltimore Key Ballroom 6.

Dr. Cory-Slechta has demonstrated a life-long commitment to neurotoxicology. She has been a pioneer in championing neurotoxicology and behavioral science, and in exploring the interactions of chemical and non-chemical stressors to understand the complex etiology of behavioral diseases. This research is highlighted, for example, in experimental work confirming that low-level lead exposure alters neurodevelopment, which was highly influential in setting federal guidelines for developmental lead exposures. Her more recent research including that on the interactions between air pollution exposure and socioeconomic stress on neurodevelopment also promises to be highly influential. In addition, Dr. Cory-Slechta has served extensively in a variety of administrative roles including as Department Chair, Institute Director, and Dean for Research at two prominent academic programs on occupational and environmental health. She also has served on numerous federal advisory panels and as an Officer and President of the NTSS. This overall record of research accomplishments and service marks a singularly distinguished career in neurotoxicology that is recognized by this award.

The committee considered three superb nominations for the Distinguished Neurotoxicologist Award. The review panel (Drs. William Boyes (chair), Michelle Block, Aaron Bowman, Steven Lasley, and Marion Ehrich) carefully evaluated these nominations relative to contributions to the science of neurotoxicology, the use of neurotoxicological science in making risk assessment and regulatory decisions, and service to the NTSS and the field of neurotoxicology. All three nominees were outstanding, exceptionally accomplished, and each has made strong contributions to neurotoxicology. Unfortunately, in any one year we are able to select only one individual for the Distinguished Neurotoxicologist Award.

The Neurotoxicology Specialty Section (NTSS) has a rich history of outstanding scientists advancing our field through research, regulatory, and service accomplishments. In the past, NTSS has recognized four scientists as Distinguished Investigators in the field of Neurotoxicology from 2001 through 2006 and Dr. Joan Cranmer in 2008 for Distinguished Service to Neurotoxicology. However, despite many accomplished scientists contributing greatly and in a variety of ways to the field, this award has been dormant since 2008. In an effort to establish a continuous mechanism to acknowledge the top leaders in our field, the NTSS leadership reinstated a career recognition award, now called the Distinguished Neurotoxicologist Award. This year, we established clear criteria, defined procedures, encouraged nominations, and convened a committee to evaluate applications. For those interested, the details of this process can be found on the NTSS website.

Congratulations to Dr. Cory-Slechta!