November 08, 2006

Background Environmental Noise During Pregnancy and Early Childhood May Impact Brain Development Negatively

Last week we had a meeting with schizophrenia researcher Sophia Vinogradov and her team at the UCSF (University of California, San Francisco) and one discussion (of many) that we found interesting was around ongoing research in Michael Merzenich's lab at UCSF that is focused on impact of background environmental noise and its impact on brain development.

In the study that Dr. Merzenich has done rat pups were exposed to disorganized noise and then analysis showed that aberrant development of brain's cortex had taken place. Basically the experiment demonstrated that you can induce catastrophic development changes -- called brain plasticity changes -- due to changes in the level of background noise.

Rats are very frequently used in brain research because (due to evolution) the biology of the rat brain in key areas is surprisingly similar to the human brain - and researchers have found that drugs and environmental factors that impact rat brains in a specific way, also tend to have the same effect on human brains. Most of the brain drugs and biotech products that are being used (for Alzheimer's disease, etc.) or are in development today are based on these types of rat experiments; and the science is very well established.

In an associated press report on this research, it was noted:

"for the noise-exposed rats, this organization was slowed, causing a delay in the development of the ability to discriminate specific sound tones. The researchers said it took three or four times longer for the rats raised in a noisy environment to reach the basic benchmarks of auditory development seen in the rat pups not exposed to noises. Although the rat is not a perfect model for what happens in humans, the authors note, the study does suggest that high levels of noise might possibly affect some language learning in infants. "These findings suggest that environmental noise, which is commonly present in contemporary child-rearing environments, can potentially contribute to auditory and language-related development delays," the authors write in Science."

Given the long known factor that there is a significantly higher risk of schizophrenia for people born and raised in city/urban environments compared to suburban and country environments (for more information click here ) this seems like an important area of work.

The research is still very early - but it may make a few people reconsider thoughts of living close to freeways, busy streets, and other locations that are associated with loud background noise for long periods of time.

We look forward to reporting more on this area in the future.

The original research in this area is: Environmental noise retards auditory cortical development.

Related Readings:


Study: Noise Affects Brain Development


Right on track, it has to do something with the backgroung noise, especially when we know that people with sz have difficulties suppressing the background voices. Good idea. I whish luck to researchers.

Posted by: Maria at November 11, 2006 06:34 AM

i don't think background noise causes schizophrenia in anyone.

however, schizophrenics could have other schizophrenics in their family tree, in fact they often do have parents who are mildly ill, diagnosed with schizophrenia, or suffering from alcoholism or depression, as these all have a genetic component, and that can mean a more chaotic environment, or housing in a poor area (schizophrenics statistically have been shown to suffer from poverty and poor housing more often than the general population).

statistically, the numbers would be 'colored' by these cases, so that even those with quieter homes and no ill relatives, won't correct the figures.

studies may measure something accurately, but come to completely groundless conclusions that make utterly no sense. it's important to review the design of the study, and be sure note what ELSE could be causing the results one sees. in the case of this study, many different things could cause the numbers to appear as they did, and the conclusions of the study are only one of a dozen or more possible reasons for the results.

Posted by: slc2 at November 21, 2006 11:04 AM

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