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Atmospheric pollution: developmental neurotoxicity in rabbit pups born to mothers exposed to nanoscale diesel exhaust particles

Airborne pollution, particularly from diesel exhaust (DE), is a major public health concern, since epidemiological data have shown that it has adverse effects on human health including brain and cognitive functions in adults. Recently, several studies warned us of the risk to the exposure to ambient air pollution during the early phase of development such as pregnancy and breastfeeding. But there have been few studies that have examined its consequences in the perinatal window and in conditions mimicking urban human exposure.

Diesel exhaust © Christine Baly
Updated on 05/15/2019
Published on 05/14/2019

The study, carried out as part of the ANSES BrainAirPoll project (EST 2014/1/190), brought together two Paris-Saclay INRA units (UR1197 and UMR1198), a unit of the University of Lorraine (EA7488) and two other collaborators. A chronic and repeated controlled nose-only gestational exposure to a DE enriched in nanoparticles was applied to female rabbits, possessing a hemodichorial placentation animal model close to that of the woman. The olfactory function of fetuses and newborns was explored as a peripheral target underlying the anatomical and functional continuum between olfactory and brain systems.

This work published in Fiber and Particle Toxicology shows that indirect gestational exposure to diesel exhaust nanoparticles leads to their transfer into the fetal olfactory tract and modifies its functionality in the perinatal period. In late-gestating fetuses, the presence of nanoscale particles in several cellular compartments of the olfactory mucosa and bulb, a disorganization of olfactory tissue neuroanatomy, as well as changes in bulbar dopaminergic transmission, are observed, suggesting an early sensory alteration.

Diesel exhaust nanoparticles  in the fetal olfactory tract. © INRA, Christine Baly
Diesel exhaust nanoparticles in the fetal olfactory tract © INRA, Christine Baly

Accordingly, a modification of the olfactory sensitivity to react to the mammary pheromone, the perception of which is essential to trigger feeding behavior, is associated with this developmental neurotoxicity in exposed pups.
The demonstration of an effect of indirect exposure of DE on the olfactory and cognitive capacities of the offspring of chronically exposed mothers during their pregnancy, in a time that should be viewed by public authorities as a period of an elevated susceptibility to environmental insults, offers new avenues for understanding the origin of cognitive disorders in human populations.

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Associated Division(s):
Animal Physiology and Livestock Systems
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Bernal-Melendez, E.; Lacroix, M.C.; Bouillaud, P.; Callebert, J.; Olivier, B.; Persuy, M.A.; Durieux, D.; Rousseau-Ralliard, D.; Aioun, J.; Cassee, F.; Couturier-Tarrade, A.; Valentino, S.; Chavatte-Palmer, P.; Schroeder, H.; Baly, C., 2019. Repeated gestational exposure to diesel engine exhaust affects the fetal olfactory system and alters olfactory-based behavior in rabbit offspring. Particle and Fibre Toxicology, 16: 17. http://dx.doi.org/10.1186/s12989-018-0288-7