Particulate air pollution and risk of neuropsychiatric outcomes. What we breathe, swallow, and put on our skin matters

Lilian Calderón-Garcidueñas, Elijah W. Stommel, Ravi Philip Rajkumar, Partha S. Mukherjee, Alberto Ayala

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

23 Scopus citations


We appraise newly accumulated evidence of the impact of particle pollution on the brain, the portals of entry, the neural damage mechanisms, and ultimately the neurological and psychiatric outcomes statistically associated with exposures. PM pollution comes from natural and anthropogenic sources such as fossil fuel combustion, engineered nanoparticles (NP ≤ 100 nm), wildfires, and wood burning. We are all constantly exposed during normal daily activities to some level of particle pollution of various sizes—PM2.5 (≤2.5 µm), ultrafine PM (UFP ≤ 100 nm), or NPs. Inhalation, ingestion, and dermal absorption are key portals of entry. Selected literature provides context for the US Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) ambient air quality standards, the conclusions of an Independent Particulate Matter Review Panel, the importance of internal combustion emissions, and evidence suggesting UFPs/NPs cross biological barriers and reach the brain. NPs produce oxidative stress and neuroinflammation, neurovascular unit, mitochondrial, endoplasmic reticulum and DNA damage, protein aggregation and misfolding, and other effects. Exposure to ambient PM2.5 concentrations at or below current US standards can increase the risk for TIAs, ischemic and hemorrhagic stroke, cognitive deficits, dementia, and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Residing in a highly polluted megacity is associated with Alzheimer neuropathology hallmarks in 99.5% of residents between 11 months and ≤40 y. PD risk and aggravation are linked to air pollution and exposure to diesel exhaust increases ALS risk. Overall, the literature supports that particle pollution contributes to targeted neurological and psychiatric outcomes and highlights the complexity of the pathophysiologic mechanisms and the marked differences in pollution profiles inducing neural damage. Factors such as emission source intensity, genetics, nutrition, comorbidities, and others also play a role. PM2.5 is a threat for neurological and psychiatric diseases. Thus, future research should address specifically the potential role of UFPs/NPs in inducing neural damage.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11568
JournalInternational Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health
Issue number21
StatePublished - Nov 1 2021


  • Air pollution
  • Alzheimer’s
  • Internal combustion emissions
  • Nanoparticles
  • Parkinson’s
  • Particulate matter
  • Pollution neurology and psychiatric outcomes
  • Quadruple aberrant proteins
  • Ultrafine particles
  • Wildfires


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