Air Quality and Health is an important area of research, and one we emphasised in our latest Collaboration Building Workshop. In this month’s blog post, Dr Chang Guo from Public Health England shares how STFC’s Central Laser Facility and the ISIS Neutron and Muon source can shed light on the journey of polluting particles through the Blood Brain Barrier (BBB).

Worldwide, there are around 50 million people living with dementia and this number will triple over the next 30 years. Accumulating observations based on epidemiological studies have shown that exposure to air pollution, especially ambient particulate matter (PM), is an important environmental risk factor for neurodegenerative and neurological disorders, such as Dementia[1]. Inhalation of unwanted air pollution is a primary source of environmental exposure and therefore impacts on public health. There has been a growing body of literature highlighting the impacts of traffic-generated air pollution on the central nervous system (CNS) including neuropathological outcomes in humans[2], which may be mediated by the inhalation of the particles. The inhaled particles could impact the brain either directly or indirectly (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Potential impacts of the inhaled particles on the brain.

The communication from the lung to the brain, which is the “lung-brain-axis”, is a hypothesis that explains the association between air pollution and incident cognitive decline, but it is yet to be proven. We will test a key component of the lung-brain-axis hypothesis using a blood-brain-barrier (BBB) model through different approaches (Figure 2), including to demonstrate if focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) at STFC Central Laser Facility can be used to explore if and how particles translocate across the BBB, to apply ISIS Muon and Neutron Source for the bioactivity assessment of the particles, to explore the biological effects at Public Health England, and to understand the liquid transport characterisation at Coventry University. This work is critical to developing a more in-depth understanding of the air pollution’s impacts on mental health.

Figure 2. Diagram of the proposed study.


  1. Peters, R., et al., Air Pollution and Dementia: A Systematic Review. J Alzheimers Dis, 2019. 70(s1): p. S145-S163.
  2. Sunyer, J., et al., Association between traffic-related air pollution in schools and cognitive development in primary school children: a prospective cohort study. PLoS Med, 2015. 12(3): p. e1001792.

Further details of the project, including team members are on their Scoping Study web page.