Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour
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Hidden in Plain Sight: Brain-related consequences of toxic environments

Lauren SalminenDespite significant advances in modern medicine, there are no cures for neurodegenerative or psychiatric conditions because the neuropathogenic mechanisms are poorly understood. This glacial pace of discovery begs the question, are we looking in the wrong places?

Environmental exposures have a long history as purported contributors to neurodegenerative and psychiatric disorders, but are seldom incorporated into explanatory models of brain aging and disease that utilize neuroimaging. However, emerging evidence from neuroimaging studies points to an important role of outdoor air pollution as a predictor of brain disruption at various points across the lifespan.

In this talk I will present the state of the science on air pollution as a risk factor for brain disruption and the development of psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases. I will address the numerous challenges that complicate environmental health research, including the confluence of psychosocial and sociodemographic variables that may interactively affect the brain. Finally, I will discuss opportunities for big data and neuroimaging to transform our knowledge of the critical synergies between the environment and biopsychosocial variables, and identify areas of blue ocean research that may be key to informing the etiological mechanisms of major brain disorders.

Lauren Salminen

Dr. Salminen received her PhD in Neuropsychology and Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Missouri in St. Louis. She completed a postdoctoral fellowship in Neuroimaging and Data Science at USC, and currently serves on the research faculty at the USC Keck School of Medicine at the Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute.

Her work uses advanced methods in brain imaging, big data, and artificial intelligence to understand the role of emotional distress and environmental toxins (e.g., air pollution, secondhand smoke) as critical drivers of suboptimal brain health in older adults. She is particularly interested in studying how demographic factors, mental health, lifestyle, and environment exposures interact to exaggerate brain aging and increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease.