Developmental exposures to ultrafine particle air pollution reduces early testosterone levels and adult male social novelty preference: Risk for children's sex-biased neurobehavioral disorders

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Abstract

Epidemiological studies have reported associations of air pollution exposures with various neurodevelopmental disorders such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit and schizophrenia, all of which are male-biased in prevalence. Our studies of early postnatal exposure of mice to the ultrafine particle (UFP) component of air pollution, considered the most reactive component, provide support for these epidemiological associations, demonstrating male-specific or male-biased neuropathological changes and cognitive and impulsivity deficits consistent with these disorders. Since these neurodevelopmental disorders also include altered social behavior and communication, the current study examined the ability of developmental UFP exposure to reproduce these social behavior deficits and to determine whether any observed alterations reflected changes in steroid hormone concentrations. Elevated plus maze, social conditioned place preference, and social novelty preference were examined in adult mice that had been exposed to concentrated (10-20x) ambient UFPs averaging approximately 45 ug/m3 particle mass concentrations from postnatal day (PND) 4–7 and 10–13 for 4 h/day. Changes in serum testosterone (T) and corticosterone where measured at postnatal day (P)14 and approximately P120. UFP exposure decreased serum T concentrations on PND 14 and social nose-to-nose sniff rates with novel males in adulthood, suggesting social communication deficits in unfamiliar social contexts. Decreased sniff rates were not accounted for by alterations in fear-mediated behaviors and occurred without overt deficits in social preference, recognition or communication with a familiar animal or alterations in corticosterone. Adult T serum concentrations were positively correlated with nose to nose sniff rates. Collectively, these studies confirm another feature of male-biased neurodevelopmental disorders following developmental exposures to even very low levels of UFP air pollution that could be related to alterations in sex steroid programming of brain function.

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