Air pollution is the main urban-related environmental hazard. It appears to affect brain development, although current evidence is inadequate given the lack of studies during the most vulnerable stages of brain development and the lack of brain anatomical structure and regional connectivity data underlying these effects. Of particular interest is the prenatal period, when brain structures are forming and growing, and when the effect of in utero exposure to environmental factors may cause permanent brain injury. I and others have conducted studies focused on effects during school age which could be less profound. I postulate that: pre-natal exposure to urban air pollution during pregnancy impairs foetal and postnatal brain development, mainly by affecting myelination; these effects are at least partially mediated by translocation of airborne particulate matter to the placenta and by placental dysfunction; and prenatal exposure to air pollution impairs post-natal brain development independently of urban context and post-natal exposure to air pollution. I aim to evaluate the effect of pre-natal exposure to urban air pollution on pre- and post-natal brain structure and function by following 900 pregnant women and their neonates with contrasting levels of pre-natal exposure to air pollutants by: i) establishing a new pregnancy cohort and evaluating brain imaging (pre-natal and neo-natal brain structure, connectivity and function), and post-natal motor and cognitive development; ii) measuring total personal exposure and inhaled dose of air pollutants during specific time-windows of gestation, noise, paternal stress and other stressors, using personal samplers and sensors; iii) detecting nanoparticles in placenta and its vascular function; iv) modelling mathematical causality and mediation, including a replication study in an external cohort. The expected results will create an impulse to implement policy interventions that genuinely protect the health of urban citizens.
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