Exposure to Air Pollution Can Put Adolescents at Risk for Cardiovascular Disturbances

By Amanda Chase, PhD
December 11, 2020

With the increasing number of wildfires, more people are becoming familiar with air quality and the idea of PM 2.5 (particulate matter 2.5). Those in areas affected by wildfires check the air quality reading to determine if the PM 2.5 levels are low enough to go outside, and especially those with other respiratory symptoms that put them at higher risk, they must determine what level of activity is safe. PM 2.5 is a measure of particulate matter (PM) that is small enough to bypass the body’s filtration system and enter into the respiratory tract, which can lead to damage of other parts of the body. PM 2.5 refers to not only particulate released from forest or grass fires (wildfires), but also from all other pollutants, including from vehicles or burning of fuels (wood, heating oil, or coal). Together, PM 2.5 air pollutants are known to be related to negative health effects, including respiratory disease and increasing symptoms of respiratory disease, and cardiovascular effects. The link between PM 2.5 and cardiovascular disease (CVD) is well established in adults. However, few studies have looked at the impact in children and adolescents. Mary Prunicki, MD, PhD and Kari Nadeau, MD, PhD addressed this critical need in their recent publication in Environmental Health.

Dr. Nadeau and her team recruited a cohort of 100 adolescents, average age of 16 years, from Fresno, California, an area with high levels of air pollution. They were able to perform various proteomic analysis and complex characterization of immune cell populations to identify immune markers linking air pollution exposure and blood pressure. They showed, for the first time in adolescents, that air pollution levels were associated with oxidative stress, inflammation, and endothelial dysfunction, among others. Importantly, they were also able to use human stem-cell-derived cardiomyocytes (heart muscle cells) to show that air pollutants can induce cardiovascular toxicity. Together, these findings suggest that air pollution adversely affects cardiovascular health in adolescents. Several of these findings will also have interesting and important implications in longer-term studies

Figure. Summary of analysis of exposure influencing blood pressure. Monocyte layer is a mediator of air pollution effects on diastolic blood pressure.

Other Stanford-affiliated authors include Jennifer Arthur Ataam, Hesam Movassagh, Juyong Brian Kim, Joseph C. Wu, Holden Maecker, and Francois Haddad. Other authors are affiliated with the University of Leuven, Belgium, and Paris Sud University, France.

Dr. Mary Prunicki

Dr. Kari Nadeau