2013

Project Title: Environmental Neurotoxicants and Drug Use: A Novel Pathway to Addiction

Principal Investigator: Kirstie Stansfield, PhD, Associate Research Scientist, Environmental Health Sciences

Mentor: Tomas Guilarte, PhD

Year: 2013

Award Amount: $25,000

Abstract: Drug addiction is a public health problem that affects both brain and behavior. There are many factors including biological, social and environmental factors that could contribute to the development and trajectory of drug use and addiction. There is evidence that brain regions important in drug addiction can be disrupted by environmental neurotoxins and result in increased sensitivity to psychostimulants later in life. Limited evidence has suggested that early life lead exposure in experimental animals increases the stimulatory properties of cocaine and increases the likelihood of relapse in adulthood. Other studies have shown that nicotine may serve as a gateway drug for psychostimulant use. This is important since lead exposure is higher in children living in inner city environments that are socioeconomically disadvantaged, which also coincides with an increased propensity for them to engage in nicotine use during their adolescent years. Our goal is to investigate the impact of early life environmental lead exposure with and without nicotine exposure on the developmental profile of neuronal systems involved in drug use and influences the development of drug addiction. More specifically, we propose to determine if rats that are exposed to lead and nicotine in early life have increased susceptibility to the psychostimulant properties of cocaine and amphetamine and determine if these effects are mediated by D1 and D2-dopamine receptors. It is possible that early life lead and nicotine exposure may alter developing brain circuits involved in drug addiction, thus enhancing the liability for drug use as young adults.

 

Project Title: Effects of Prenatal Exposure to Air Pollutants on Neurodevelopment and the Manifestation of Learning Disorders

Principal Investigator: Amy Margolis, PhD, Assistant Professor of Medical Psychology

Consultants: Virginia Rauh, ScD, Bradley Peterson, MD and Frederica Perera, DrPH, PhD

Year: 2013

Award Amount: $25,000

Abstract: The goal of the study is to examine the neurotoxic effects of prenatal exposure to two well characterized air pollutants (Environmental Tobacco Smoke [ETS] and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons [PAHs]) on neuroanatomical structure and learning problems in the early school years. We hypothesize that structural alterations in neuroanatomy will mediate the relationship between prenatal air pollutant exposure and the risk of specific learning disorders. The proposed work capitalizes on a growing body of research showing adverse effects of specific indoor and ambient air pollutants on cognition1-3, and extends this work to test the novel hypothesis that such exposures contribute to widespread learning problems—an understudied area in environmental science with important implications for long-term school success. Further, this study will explore possible brain structural mediators of this association. The proposed study will make use of exposure data from a prospective cohort study being conducted by the Columbia Center for Children’s Environmental Health (ES09600/EPA RD-83214101, Perera, P.I.; Rauh, co-P.I.) and MRI data being collected as part of a linked study examining the effects of ETS on brain structure (R01DA027100, Rauh, Peterson co-PIs). As part of the ETS work, structural magnetic resonance images and measures of neuropsychological functioning are being collected in a community sample of 250 children, a low-income population with a range of exposures to ETS (measured by cotinine) and PAH (measured by personal air monitoring). We are requesting pilot funds to expand data collection on the existing cohort at 9-11 years of age to include state-of-the-art measures of learning capacities and problems. Although environmental scientists have long been interested in the effects of potentially neurotoxic chemicals on child cognitive and behavioral development, few studies have considered the role of learning processes—those complex and relatively enduring systems or set of abilities that shape behavior and cognitive performance both in and outside of school. For the most part, studies of learning processes have flourished in the educational and psychological literatures, quite separately from environmental science, so the proposed pilot work is truly cross-disciplinary and translational. Results of this study will provide preliminary data for a career development award application and a future R01 that will identify biological/brain structural pathways linking early exposure to widespread yet potent neurotoxicants with long-term learning outcomes. The proposed research agenda has the potential to yield new information that may provide the biological basis for the design of future learning interventions, an area of great interest to Dr. Margolis.

 

Project Title: Spatial Patterns of Pollen in New York City: Linking Aeroallergen Dispersion Patterns to Health

Principal Investigator: Gina Lovasi, PhD, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology

Co-Investigators: Matt Perzanowski, PhD and Pat Kinney, ScD

Year: 2013

Award Amount: $25,000

Abstract: Allergic diseases affect a substantial proportion of people living in urban areas in the United States in general and in New York City specifically. Many types of pollen are considered to be aeroallergens, and have been linked to several manifestations of allergic disease, including allergic sensitization, exacerbation of allergic rhinitis, and exacerbation of allergic asthma. A recent study has demonstrated that urban tree canopy density around a child’s prenatal address, a possible proxy for exposure to tree pollen, is associated with a child’s risk for developing allergic sensitization by age 7 to specific allergens including tree pollen. These results indicate that spatial variation in tree pollen may be relevant to allergic disease. However, little is known about the spatial distribution of pollen from different species within cities and the relevance of these distribution patterns to the development and exacerbation of allergic disease. A better understanding of these relationships is especially critical as massive urban tree planting projects progress, and as the length and severity of the annual pollen season changes in response to changing temperature and CO2 concentrations. The overall objective of this proposal is to measure the spatial patterns of annual tree pollen abundance in New York City (NYC) and examine their associations with childhood allergic sensitization. In Aim 1, we will develop a novel dataset of spatial pollen measurements for the 2013 pollen season from 45 sites across NYC. These sites are co-located with an established network of air pollutant monitoring sites. In Aim 2, we will use these pollen measurements to develop exposure estimates for children enrolled in the NYC Neighborhood Allergy and Asthma Study (NAAS) and test the hypothesis that modeled tree pollen influx at the home address after birth is associated with allergic sensitization to tree pollen by age 7-8.

 

Project Title: The role of harmane and tremor disorders

Principal Investigator: Sheng-Han Kuo, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology

Co-Investigators: Elan Louis, MD and Tomas Guilarte, PhD

Year: 2013

Award Amount: $25,000

Abstract: Essential tremor (ET) and Parkinson's disease (PD) are the two most common tremor disorders in the elderly and the pathogenesis of tremor in these disorders are poorly understood. Environmental toxin exposures could play an important role in the disease etiology. A group of chemicals called P-carboline alkaloids (SCA) can produce tremor in animals and Dr. Elan Louis found the levels of one of the SCAs, harmane (HA), are increased in ET and PD patients. HA exists in the cooked meat and is the most abundant dietary SCAs. Thus, we would like to directly test whether the chronic exposure of HA will lead to persistent tremor and also neuropathology features of ET and PD. We will repetitively administer low dose of HA in mice and assess tremor severity and duration, brain HA concentrations, and cerebellar and substantia nigra pathology. Ultimately, we will establish a chronic SCA tremor model and test medications that can lessen tremor and prevent the neuropathology changes of tremor disorders.

 

Project Title: B Vitamin Deficiencies, Arsenic, and Cognitive Function in Bangladeshi Adolescents

Principal Investigator: Megan N. Hall, PhD, Assistant Professor of Epidemiology

Year: 2013

Award Amount: $25,000

Abstract: The overall goal of this study is to test the hypothesis that suboptimal status of two nutrients, vitamin B12 and folate, and/or high plasma total homocysteine (tHcys) concentrations, either independently or in combination with arsenic (As) exposure, are associated with impairments in cognitive function in 15-17 year-old Bangladeshi adolescents. Much is known worldwide about the effects of deficiencies of other nutrients, such as iron, on cognitive function in children; these nutritional deficits lead to substantial economic and social cost to the developing world through long-term reductions in productivity1. However, the influences on children of deficiencies of vitamins B12 and folate, two nutrients known to be required for proper neural development, neurotransmitter synthesis, and myelination of neurons, have received very little attention. In previous studies, we have a) shown a high prevalence of folate and B12 deficiencies and hyperhomocysteinemia even among young children in this study area and b) linked well-characterized exposure to As-contaminated drinking water to impairments in cognitive function in children. Building on these findings, we hypothesize that there may be a synergistic impact on cognitive function of folate/B12/tHcys and As exposure. In the work proposed here, cognitive function will be measured with the Cambridge Neuropsychological Test Automated Battery (CANTAB), a well-validated set of computer-administered tests; general intelligence will be assessed by the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children IV (WISC-IV). Drawing on samples from an ongoing study of adolescents (15-17 years old) by our team in Bangladesh, in our first aim we will test the hypothesis that plasma concentrations of vitamin B12 and folate and/or tHcys are associated with poorer cognitive functioning in a subset of 260 15-17 year-old Bangladeshi adolescents with lifetime history of low As exposure, having relevance to non-As exposed populations. In our second aim, we will test the hypothesis that there is an interaction between B vitamin nutritional status (i.e. folate, B12 and/or tHcys) and As exposure on cognitive functioning in the total study sample of 760 adolescents. Positive findings of these studies could have profound implications for the population’s health, productivity, and economy.

 

Project Title: Up in Smoke: A Community-based Participatory Research Project on the Conversion Process to Cleaner Burning Fuel in Northern Manhattan

Principal Investigator: Diana Hernandez, PhD, Assistant Professor (Dept. of Sociomedical Sciences)

Co-Investigators/Community Partners: Cecil Corbin Mark and Milka Rodriguez, (WE ACT)

Co-Investigators: Steve Chillrud, PhD and Matt Perzanowski, PhD

Year: 2013

Award Amount: $25,000

Abstract: A recent policy measure issued by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection mandates conversion from No. 6 and No. 4 fuel types to cleaner burning fuel sources including lower sulfur No. 2 fuel, biodiesel or natural gas. This public health law is intended to address widespread air pollution by reducing fine particulate matter (PM2.5) emissions that produce soot and black carbon in New York City. These environmental hazards are linked to a variety of health problems including cardiovascular disease, respiratory illness and lung cancer. In order to increase compliance with the law, NYC implemented a Clean Heat Initiative that provides a variety of resources to assist building owners in the conversion process. West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT) has been commissioned to target 50 building owners/managers in Northern Manhattan in order to direct them in the retrofit process by offering various support services. Through their “Clean Heat, Clean Energy Initiative,” WE ACT will target at least 50 private, multi-family building owners in Northern Manhattan to begin the phase-in of clean heat retrofits in their buildings, ultimately leading to a reduction in the City's heating oil-related air pollution levels as the project moves from demonstration into broader implementation phase. Using a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach, the proposed CBPR project will measure the effects of conversion to cleaner burning residential heating sources and investigate multiple stakeholder perspectives on the enforcement of regulations to phase out the use of heavy heating oils in buildings throughout the city. Also in collaboration with the Exposure Assessment Core, we aim to: (a) measure indoor and outdoor air quality prior to and one-year post conversion to a cleaner burning fuel source and (b) examine landlord, tenant and community stakeholder perspectives on the law and explore barriers and facilitators in the decision-making process. Results from this pilot project will lead to additional research proposals related to the built environment and improvements in health outcomes related to expected decreases in air pollutants associated with space heating and policy initiatives to improve air quality. This pilot should also inform policymakers seeking to address environmental issues related to the built environment, particularly in disadvantaged neighborhoods.