Ambient air pollution exposure and mental health, neurocognition and structural and functional changes of the brain

Study Objectives

Urban outdoor air pollution is a global public health problem. Alarmingly, recent evidence raises concerns about potential effects of air pollutants on cognitive functions as well as on brain structure and its function. Impaired brain health presents a major public health threat in rapidly aging populations. Since no reliable therapy for dementia exists and the disease burden of dementia is expected to increase in the next decades due to our ageing societies, prevention by identification and reduction of modifiable risk factors is of utmost importance.

Specific objectives

To investigate

  • the association of long-term air pollution and noise with cognitive performance and decline
  • the association between long-term air pollution, noise, and structural and functional measures of the brain
  • epigenetic effects of environmental risk factors for brain health

Study design

Population-based cohort study

Study population

  • The Heinz Nixdorf Recall (HNR) cohort study: ongoing population-based cohort of 4814 randomly chosen people aged 45-74 at baseline (2000-2003). The data from the first (2006-2008) and second (2011-2015) follow-ups will be included.
  • the HNR-Multigeneration Study (HNR-MGS): 2900 partners and children of HNR participants recruited in 20011-2016
  • The 1000BRAINS study: an ongoing population-based cohort of 1,300 subjects aged between 55 and 85 years that were recruited in 2011 from the second follow-up of the HNR study as well as the Heinz Nixdorf MultiGeneration.

Study area

Bochum, Essen and Mülheim/Ruhr, Germany

Study period

Ongoing since 2000

Current status

Data analysis


  • Prof. Svenja Caspers, MD, PhD, Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Research Centre Jülich, Jülich, Germany; Institute for Anatomy I, Medical Faculty and University Hospital Düsseldorf, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany.
  • Prof. Sven Cichon, Institute of Human Genetics, University of Bonn, Bonn, Germany; Institute for Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-1), Centre Jülich, Jülich, Germany; Division of Medical Genetics, Department of Biomedicine, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
  • Dr. Christiane Jockwitz, Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine, Research Centre Jülich, Jülich, Germany; Institute for Anatomy I, Medical Faculty and University Hospital Düsseldorf, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany..

Project Team hhu

  • Prof. Dr. Barbara Hoffmann
  • Dr. Katherine Ogurstova
  • Dr. Vanessa Soppa
  • Anna Buschka


Exposure assessment funded by DFG HO 3314/4-3

Project Publications

  • Nußbaum R, Lucht S, Jockwitz C, Moebus S, Engel M, Jöckel K-H, Caspers S, Hoffmann B. Associations of Air Pollution and Noise with Local Brain Structure in a Cohort of Older Adults. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2020;128(6):1–11. DOI: 10.1289/EHP5859.
  • Lucht S, Glaubitz L, Moebus S, Schramm S, Jockwitz C, Caspers S, Hoffmann B. Long-term air pollution, noise, and structural measures of the Default Mode Network in the brain: Results from the 1000BRAINS cohort. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. 2022;239. DOI: 10.1016/J.IJHEH.2021.113867.
  • Glaubitz L, Stumme J, Lucht S, Moebus S, Schramm Sara, Jockwitz C, Hoffmann B, Caspers S. Association between Long-Term Air Pollution, Chronic Traffic Noise, and Resting-State Functional Connectivity in the 1000BRAINS Study. Environmental Health Perspectives 2022 Sep;130(9):97007. DOI: 10.1289/EHP9737.
  • Ogurtsova K, Soppa VJ, Weimar C, Jöckel KH, Jokisch M, Hoffmann B. Association of long-term air pollution and the ambient noise with cognitive decline in the Heinz Nixdorf Recall study. Environmental Pollution 2023 Aug 15;331(Pt 1):121898. DOI: 10.1016/j.envpol.2023.121898.

Related Publications

  • Wege N, Dlugaj M, Siegrist J, Dragano N, Erbel R, Jöckel K-H, Moebus S, Weimar C. Population-Based Distribution and Psychometric Properties of a Short Cognitive Performance Measure in the Population Based Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study. Neuroepidemiology 2011;37(1):13–20. DOI:10.1159/000328262
  • Tzivian L, Dlugaj M, Winkler A, Weinmayr G, Hennig F, Fuks KB, Vossoughi M, Schikowski T, Weimar C, Erbel R, Jöckel KH, Moebus S, Hoffmann B. Long-Term Air Pollution and Traffic Noise Exposures and Mild Cognitive Impairment in Older Adults: A Cross-Sectional Analysis of the Heinz Nixdorf Recall Study. Environ Health Perspect. 2016;124(9):1361–1368.
  • Tzivian L, Jokisch M, Winkler A, Weimar C, Hennig F, Sugiri D, Soppa VJ, Dragano N, Erbel R, Jockel KH, Moebus S, Hoffmann B. Associations of long-term exposure to air pollution and road traffic noise with cognitive function-An analysis of effect measure modification. Environ Int. 2017;103:30–38.
  • Tzivian L, Winkler A, Dlugaj M, Schikowski T, Vossoughi M, Fuks K, Weinmayr G, Hoffmann B. Effect of long-term outdoor air pollution and noise on cognitive and psychological functions in adults. Int J Hyg Environ Health, 2015;218(1):1–11.
  • Bittner N, Jockwitz C, Mühleisen TW, Hoffstaedter F, Eickhoff SB, Moebus S, Bayen U, Cichon S, Zilles K, Amunts K, Caspers S. Combining lifestyle risks to disentangle brain structure and functional connectivity differences in older adults. Nat Commun. 2019;10(1):621.
  • Caspers S, Moebus S, Lux S, Pundt N, Schütz H, Mühleisen TW, Gras V, Eickhoff SB, Romanzetti S, Stöcker T, Stirnberg R, Kirlangic ME, Minnerop M, Pieperhoff P, Mödder U, Das S, Evans AC, Jöckel KH, Erbel R, Cichon S, Nöthen MM, Sturma D, Bauer A, Shah NJ, Zilles K, Amunts K. Studying variability in human brain aging in a population-based German cohort-rationale and design of 1000BRAINS. Front Aging Neurosci. 2014;6:149.
  • Caspers S*, Röckner ME*, Jockwitz C, Bittner N, Teumer A, Herms S, Hoffmann P, Nöthen MM, Moebus S, Amunts K, Cichon S*, Mühleisen TW*. Pathway-Specific Genetic Risk for Alzheimer's Disease Differentiates Regional Patterns of Cortical Atrophy in Older Adults. Cereb Cortex. 2019;epub ahead of print. 2020;30(2):801-811. DOI:10.1093/cercor/bhz127. *equal contribution.
  • Caspers S, Axer M, Caspers J, Jockwitz C, Jütten K, Reckfort J, Grässel D, Amunts K, Zilles K. Target sites for transcallosal fibres in human visual cortex – a combined diffusion and polarized light imaging study. Cortex. 2015;72:40-53.
  • Jockwitz C, Mérillat S, Liem F, Oschwald J, Amunts K, Caspers S*, Jäncke L*. Generalizing age effects on brain structure and cognition: A two-study comparison approach. Hum Brain Mapp. 2019;40(8):2305–2319. *equal contribution.
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