Traffic air pollution, genetic variation and autism spectrum disorder

Traffic in Buffalo, NY

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has been increasing in the last few decades. In 2010, 1 out of 68 children in the United States is diagnosed with ASD.

Improved diagnosis may partially explain the recent increase, while the complete understanding of ASD development and the reason for the rapid growing prevalence remains unclear.

Air pollution has been associated with various health effects including child development. In urban areas, traffic-related air pollutants (TRP) are the most important contributor to local air pollution and the principal source of intra-urban variation in air pollution concentrations. Many TRPs were found to affect brain function and activity in toxicological studies. TRPs may induce inflammation and oxidative stress, which can result in damage to endothelial cells in the brain and compromise the blood-brain barrier and activate brain microglia.

The Peace Bridge is the highest-volume border crossing in Western New York and Canada. The average number of daily vehicle crossings at the Peace Bridge is 17,920 and approximately 20 percent of these vehicles are heavy-duty trucks. Heavy traffic air pollution around the Peace Bridge and surrounding areas has been a major environmental concern from nearby communities in both U.S. and Canada for decades. Heavy traffic emissions around the Peace Bridge and relative low-traffic around Buffalo’s suburbs formed rather large variations in TRP exposure levels, which offers a special opportunity to study the impact of traffic pollution exposure on ASD.

This study aims to conduct a case-control study in Erie County. Researchers will use traffic air pollutants data and participants’ major locations to estimate individual’s TRP exposure from pregnancy to diagnosis. The full study aims to examine the relationship between TRP exposure in critical time period and ASD development, and explore the potential interaction between genetic variation and TRP exposure in the ASD development.

To achieve the goal, this pilot study plan to recruit 30 ASD cases and 60 controls to (1) demonstrate the feasibility of recruiting eligible cases and controls from Buffalo Women’s and Children Hospital where the autism spectrum disorder center is located; (2) construct participants’ early life exposure to TRP; (3) collect biospecimen from each participant and run the genomic analysis.

The project’s principal investigator is Lina Mu, PhD, MD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health. Co-investigators are Michelle Hartley-McAndrew, MD, FAAP, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and Neurology, and medical director of the Children’s Guild Foundation Autism Spectrum Disorder Center; Norma Jean Nowak, PhD, professor in the Department of Biochemistry, and executive director of UB’s New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences; Matthew Bonner, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Environmental Health; Zia Ahmed, PhD, research scientist at RENEW;Joseph A. Gardella, Jr., SUNY Distinguished Professor of Chemistry;and Lili Tian, PhD, professor in the Department of Biostatistics.