BACKGROUND: Traffic-related air pollution is emerging as a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease (AD) and impaired brain development. Individual differences in vulnerability to air pollution may involve the epsilon 4 allele of Apolipoprotein E (APOE) gene, the primary genetic risk factor for AD.
OBJECTIVE: We analyzed whether the association between traffic air pollution and neurodevelopmental outcomes is modified by A POE epsilon 4 status in children.
METHODS: Data on parent-reported behavior problems (total difficulties scores, Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire), eacher-reported attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptom scores, cognitive performance trajectories (computerized tests of inattentiveness and working memory repeated 2-4 times during January 2012-March 2013), and APOE genotypes were obtained for 1,667 children age 7-11 y attending 39 schools in or near Barcelona. Basal ganglia volume (putamen, caudate, and globus pallidum) was measured in 163 of the children by MRI (October 2012-April 2014.) Average annual outdoor polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), elemental carbon (EC), and nitrogen dioxide (NO2) concentrations were estimated based on measurements at each school (two 1-wk campaigns conducted 6 months apart in 2012).
RESULTS: APOE epsilon 4 allele carriers had significantly higher behavior problem scores than noncarriers, and adverse associations with PAHs and NO2 were stronger or limited to epsilon 4 carriers for behavior problem scores (P-interaction 0.03 and 0.04), caudate volume (P-interaction 0.04 and 0.03), and inattentiveness trajectories (P-interaction 0.15 and 0.08, respectively). Patterns of associations with the same outcomes were similar for EC.
CONCLUSION: PAHs, EC, and NO2 were associated with higher behavior problem scores, smaller reductions in inattentiveness over time, and smaller caudate volume in APOE epsilon 4 allele carriers in our study population, and corresponding associations were weak or absent among epsilon 4 noncaniers. These findings support a potential role of APOE in biological mechanisms that may contribute to associations between air pollution and neurobehavioral outcomes in children.