Med Hypotheses. 2014 Feb;82(2):219-24. doi: 10.1016/j.mehy.2013.11.042. Epub 2013 Dec 11.
Preterm birth is a public health issue of global significance, which may result in mortality during the perinatal period or may lead to major health and financial consequences due to lifelong impacts. Even though several risk factors for preterm birth have been identified, prevention efforts have failed to halt the increasing rates of preterm birth. Epidemiological studies have identified air pollution as an emerging potential risk factor for preterm birth. However, many studies were limited by study design and inadequate exposure assessment. Due to the ubiquitous nature of ambient air pollution and the potential public health significance of any role in causing preterm birth, a novel focus investigating possible causal mechanisms influenced by air pollution is therefore a global health priority. We hypothesize that air pollution may act together with other biological factors to induce systemic inflammation and influence the duration of pregnancy. Evaluation and testing of this hypothesis is currently being conducted in a prospective cohort study in Mexico City and will provide an understanding of the pathways that mediate the effects of air pollution on preterm birth. The important public health implication is that crucial steps in this mechanistic pathway can potentially be acted on early in pregnancy to reduce the risk of preterm birth.