from Wired: Autopia by Chuck Squatriglia
Paying through the nose to fill up the car is enough to send anyone into a rage, but it might be the fumes you’re inhaling while pumping gas that make you angry.
Amal Kinawy of Cairo University found that rats exposed to gasoline fumes were more aggressive than those breathing clean air and more likely to show signs of anxiety. What’s more, their brains experienced changes in neurotransmitters in the hypothalamus, hippocampus and cerebellum. Although Kinaway limited her research to rats, she says the findings could apply to humans and be a factor in road rage.
“Heightened aggression may be yet another risk for the human population chronically exposed to urban air polluted by automobile smoke,” she said. “Millions of people every day are exposed to gasoline fumes while refueling their cars.”
Kinawy subjected 15 rats to leaded gasoline — which is still available in Egypt — and 15 to unleaded fuel. Fifteen others were used as a control group. The rats were exposed to gasoline vapors for 30 minutes each day for six weeks, then housed for 10 days with litter mates that had not been used in the test.
She found the rats that had breathed gas fumes were more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior such as chattering their teeth, arching their backs and biting. Rats exposed to unleaded fuel were slightly more likely to show aggression than those exposed to leaded fuel.
Each rat was dissected, and Kinawy discovered exposure to gasoline fumes had altered the animals’ brains.
“Rats exposed to unleaded gasoline showed indications of increased damage caused by free radicals and altered levels of neurotransmitters in the brain cortex region, in comparison with the control or leaded-gasoline groups,” she said. “Furthermore, inhalation of both fuels induced significant fluctuations in neurotransmitters in the hypothalamus, hippocampus and cerebellum.”
The study appears in the online journal BMC Physiology.
Photo: Flickr / markvall