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PLoS Biol. 2019 Aug 20;17(8):e3000353. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3000353. eCollection 2019 Aug.

Environmental pollution is associated with increased risk of psychiatric disorders in the US and Denmark.

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Department of Medicine, Institute of Genomics and Systems Biology, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.
National Centre for Register-Based Research, Aarhus BSS, Department of Economics and Business Economics, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.
Centre for Integrated Register-based Research, CIRRAU, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.
The Lundbeck Foundation Initiative for Integrative Psychiatric Research, iPSYCH, Aarhus, Denmark.
Department of Environmental Science, Aarhus University, Roskilde, Denmark.
Department of Sociology and the Institute for Society and Genetics, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, United States of America.
Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet, Stockholm, Sweden.
Departments of Genetics and Psychiatry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States of America.
Big Data Centre for Environment and Health, Aarhus University, Aarhus, Denmark.
Department of Human Genetics, Center for Data and Computing, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, United States of America.


The search for the genetic factors underlying complex neuropsychiatric disorders has proceeded apace in the past decade. Despite some advances in identifying genetic variants associated with psychiatric disorders, most variants have small individual contributions to risk. By contrast, disease risk increase appears to be less subtle for disease-predisposing environmental insults. In this study, we sought to identify associations between environmental pollution and risk of neuropsychiatric disorders. We present exploratory analyses of 2 independent, very large datasets: 151 million unique individuals, represented in a United States insurance claims dataset, and 1.4 million unique individuals documented in Danish national treatment registers. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) county-level environmental quality indices (EQIs) in the US and individual-level exposure to air pollution in Denmark were used to assess the association between pollution exposure and the risk of neuropsychiatric disorders. These results show that air pollution is significantly associated with increased risk of psychiatric disorders. We hypothesize that pollutants affect the human brain via neuroinflammatory pathways that have also been shown to cause depression-like phenotypes in animal studies.

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