CLUE | Cognitive DeveLopment in the Urban Environment

CLUE aims to investigate the emerging hypothesis that children who were born in and grow up in urban environments display impaired cognitive development due to long-term exposures to air pollution and noise from traffic. This research is embedded within the existing Study of Cognition, Adolescents and Mobile Phones (SCAMP). CLUE will also investigate the underlying biological mechanisms by which air pollution and noise may impact on cognitive development in a subset of the SCAMP cohort.

  • With increasing population growth and continuing urbanization, air quality and urban noise have emerged as important determinants of the global and European burden of disease, as well as public health within cities.
  • Air pollution concentrations on London’s busiest roads continue to exceed UK Air Quality Strategy Objective (AQS) and EU Limit Values, with approximately 80% of children living in Inner City London boroughs having annual exposures to nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in excess of the EU limit value (40 µg/m3) (1), reflecting the high proportion of diesel vehicles.
  • Urban noise also constitutes a problem in densely populated, highly trafficked urban areas.
  • In London, it is predicted that 19% of the population are exposed to residential noise levels, and 100% to night-time noise levels, that exceed World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines.
  • Recent research suggests that chronic exposure to air pollution and noise may have detrimental effects on cognition, academic performance and behaviour in children, but there is limited scientific evidence and very little is known about possible underlying mechanisms for these effects.
  • Cognitive deficits have potential life-limiting impacts at both the individual and societal level, with significant economic importance to the nation.
  • Previous research has focussed on the early years of life, and very few studies have considered the impact of urban environments on development in adolescence.

(1) Wood HE, Marlin N, Mudway IS, Bremner SA, Cross L, Dundas I, et al. (2015) Effects of Air Pollution and the Introduction of the London Low Emission Zone on the Prevalence of Respiratory and Allergic Symptoms in Schoolchildren in East London: A Sequential Cross-Sectional Study. PLoS ONE 10(8): e0109121.

This research will be led by Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at Imperial College London in collaboration with King’s College London  and Birkbeck, University of London

Principal Investigator: Dr Mireille B. Toledano, Reader in Epidemiology at Imperial College London


  • Professor Michael Thomas, Professor in Cognitive Neuroscience at Birkbeck, University of London, and the director of the Centre for Educational Neuroscience (CEN).
  • Dr Ian Mudway, lecturer in Respiratory Toxicology at King’s College London.
  • Professor Frank Kelly, Chair in Environmental Health and Director of the Environmental Research Group at King’s College London, and Chairman of the Department of Health’s Expert Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution (COMEAP).
  • Dr Ben Barratt, Lecturer in Air Quality Science at King’s College London.
  • Dr Sean Beevers, Senior Lecturer in Air Quality Modelling at King’s College London.
  • Professor John Gulliver, University of Leicester.

This research is funded by the Medical Research Council.