This Request for Information (RFI) seeks input on challenges and opportunities for interdisciplinary research that brings together neuroscientists, environmental health scientists, and scientists from other related disciplines to form new teams to advance understanding of the contribution of environmental toxicants to impaired function of the nervous system across the life span.
For the purpose of this RFI, environmental toxicants of primary interest include industrial chemicals or manufacturing byproducts, metals, pesticides, herbicides, air pollutants and other inhaled toxicants, particulates or fibers, plastics, fungal exposures, and bacterial or biologically derived toxins. Expression of toxicity can take many forms across different ages and developmental stages, ranging from neurodevelopmental to neurodegenerative disorders, and encompassing alterations in cognition and behavior that range from subtle to severe. The full range of nervous system outcomes is relevant to this RFI.
A wealth of studies, including many supported by the NIH, provide numerous examples of associations between exposure to environmental toxicants and adverse nervous system outcomes. The devastating consequences of legacy toxicants such as lead and mercury on child brain development have been known for decades, while a growing body of more recent research has linked adverse outcomes of the nervous system to prevalent exposures such as pesticides, ambient air pollution and compounds used as flame retardants and plasticizers. The timing of exposure is critically important.in determining impact. While some exposures can produce rapid observable effects, there is mounting recognition of delayed effects. For example, exposures during critical windows early in development can exert delayed effects, ones not evident until adulthood. Neurotoxicologists, who represent a small fraction of the neuroscience research community, are actively pursuing the biology that links toxicant exposure to neurological outcomes; however, the wealth of knowledge and diverse expertise of the larger neuroscience community is needed.
Several recent National Academy of Science, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) workshops (Environmental Neuroscience: Advancing the Understanding of How Chemical Exposures Impact Brain Health and Disease, The Interplay between Environmental Exposures and Mental Health Outcomes, and Integrating the Science of Aging and Environmental Health Research), highlighted the importance of fostering interdisciplinary Team Research to harness the collective efforts of neuroscientists and the environmental health sciences community. These collaborations provide a means to accelerate our understanding of the role of environmental chemicals in nervous system dysfunction and the cellular and molecular mechanisms at play. This knowledge is critical for achieving a full understanding of the multifactorial etiologies of neurological disease, disorders, and dysfunctions that are relevant to the missions of several NIH Institutes and Centers. The potential modifiability of many environmental exposures creates opportunities for novel prevention and intervention strategies to reduce the burden of neurological illness across the lifespan, especially in underserved communities where health inequities are prevalent.
This RFI invites comments, ideas, and information related to gaps, challenges and opportunities for collaborative research bridging neuroscience and environmental health science. Comments are welcome from all stakeholders, including but not limited to, neuroscientists, toxicologists and other members of the environmental health science community, clinicians, patient advocacy groups, individuals and families affected by neurological conditions and interested members of the public. Responses may include, but are not limited to, the following topics