Fine particulate matter (PM2.5) is thought to exacerbate Parkinson's disease (PD) in the elderly, and early detection of PD progression may prevent further irreversible damage. Therefore, we used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) for probing microstructural changes after late-life chronic traffic-related PM2.5 exposure. Herein, 1.5-year-old Fischer 344 rats were exposed to clean air (control), high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA)-filtered ambient air (HEPA group), and ambient traffic-related PM2.5 (PM2.5 group, 9.933 ± 1.021 µg/m3) for 3 months. Rotarod test, DTI tractographic analysis, and immunohistochemistry were performed in the end of study period. Aged rats exposed to PM2.5 exhibited motor impairment with decreased fractional anisotropy and tyrosine hydroxylase expression in olfactory and nigrostriatal circuits, indicating disrupted white matter integrity and dopaminergic (DA) neuronal loss. Additionally, increased radial diffusivity and lower expression of myelin basic protein in PM2.5 group suggested ageing progression of demyelination exacerbated by PM2.5 exposure. Significant production of tumor necrosis factor-α was also observed after PM2.5 exposure, revealing potential inflammation of injury to multiple fiber tracts of DA pathways. Microstructural changes demonstrated potential links between PM2.5-induced inflammatory white matter demyelination and behavioral performance, with indication of pre-manifestation of DTI-based biomarkers for early detection of PD progression in the elderly.
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