USC Researchers Say Link Exists Between Autism, Air Pollution

High levels of air pollution impact children predisposed to autism spectrum disorder, say researchers.

Los Angeles has a high level of air pollution.
Los Angeles has a high level of air pollution.

People genetically predisposed to autism have a higher risk of developing the disease when exposed to high levels of air pollution, according to research at USC's Keck School of Medicine to be published in the January edition of Epidemiology.

"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 with the risk genotype and lower air pollution exposure," said Heather Volk, an assistant professor of research in preventative medicine and pediatrics at USC and the principal investigator at The Saban Research Institute at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.

Autism spectrum disorder, which is estimated to affect one in every 88 children in the United States, is a lifelong neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by problems with social interaction, communication and repetitive behaviors.

Though autism spectrum disorder is believed to be largely rooted in genes, questions remain about other factors that influence its development.

The study's senior author, Daniel Campbell, said the research -- the first to link a "specific interaction between a well-established genetic risk factor and an environmental factor" -- focused on the affect of pollution on the MET receptor tyrosine kinase gene.

Campbell and Volk, who have independently reported an association between autism and pollution, drew their results from a study of 408 California children, 2-5 years old, with 252 fitting the criteria for autism.

- City News Service


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