Accumulation of Ambient Black Carbon Particles Within Key Memory-Related Brain Regions

Kenneth Vanbrabant*, Debby van Dam, Eva Bongaerts, Yannick Vermeiren, Hannelore Bové, Niels Hellings, Marcel Ameloot, Michelle Plusquin, Peter Paul de Deyn, Tim Nawrot

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Importance Ambient air pollution is a worldwide problem, not only related to respiratory and cardiovascular diseases but also to neurodegenerative disorders. Different pathways on how air pollutants could affect the brain are already known, but direct evidence of the presence of ambient particles (or nanoparticles) in the human adult brain is limited.
Objective To examine whether ambient black carbon particles can translocate to the brain and observe their biodistribution within the different brain regions.
Design, Setting, and Participants In this case series a label-free and biocompatible detection technique of nonincandescence-related white light generation was used to screen different regions of biobanked brains of 4 individuals from Belgium with neuropathologically confirmed Alzheimer disease for the presence of black carbon particles. The selected biological specimens were acquired and subsequently stored in a biorepository between April 2013 and April 2017. Black carbon measurements and data analysis were conducted between June 2020 and December 2022.
Main Outcomes and Measures The black carbon load was measured in various human brain regions. A Kruskal-Wallis test was used to compare black carbon loads across these regions, followed by Dunn multiple comparison tests.
Results Black carbon particles were directly visualized in the human brain of 4 individuals (3 women [75%]; mean [SD] age, 86 [13] years). Screening of the postmortem brain regions showed a significantly higher median (IQR) number of black carbon particles present in the thalamus (433.6 [289.5-540.2] particles per mm3), the prefrontal cortex including the olfactory bulb (420.8 [306.6-486.8] particles per mm3), and the hippocampus (364.7 [342.0-448.7] particles per mm3) compared with the cingulate cortex (192.3 [164.2-277.5] particles per mm3), amygdala (217.5 [147.3-244.5] particles per mm3), and the superior temporal gyrus (204.9 [167.9-236.8] particles per mm3).
Conclusions and Relevance This case series provides evidence that ambient air pollution particles are able to translocate to the human brain and accumulate in multiple brain regions involved in cognitive functioning. This phenomenon may contribute to the onset and development of neurodegenerative disorders.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbere245678
JournalJAMA Network Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 9 Apr 2024


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