Airborne copper exposure in school environments associated with poorer motor performance and altered basal ganglia

Jesus Pujol, Raquel Fenoll, Dídac Macià, Gerard Martínez-Vilavella, Mar Alvarez-Pedrerol, Ioar Rivas, Joan Forns, Joan Deus, Laura Blanco-Hinojo, Xavier Querol, Jordi Sunyer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

41 Citations (Scopus)


© 2016 The Authors. Brain and Behavior published by Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Introduction: Children are more vulnerable to the effects of environmental elements. A variety of air pollutants are among the identified factors causing neural damage at toxic concentrations. It is not obvious, however, to what extent the tolerated high levels of air pollutants are able to alter brain development. We have specifically investigated the neurotoxic effects of airborne copper exposure in school environments. Methods: Speed and consistency of motor response were assessed in 2836 children aged from 8 to 12 years. Anatomical MRI, diffusion tensor imaging, and functional MRI were used to directly test the brain repercussions in a subgroup of 263 children. Results: Higher copper exposure was associated with poorer motor performance and altered structure of the basal ganglia. Specifically, the architecture of the caudate nucleus region was less complete in terms of both tissue composition and neural track water diffusion. Functional MRI consistently showed a reciprocal connectivity reduction between the caudate nucleus and the frontal cortex. Conclusions: The results establish an association between environmental copper exposure in children and alterations of basal ganglia structure and function.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016


  • Air pollution
  • brain development
  • copper
  • diffusion tensor imaging
  • fMRI
  • neurodegenerative disorders


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