Researchers uncover a mechanism linking inhaled diesel pollution and respiratory distress

March 13, 2015, European Lung Foundation

Researchers in the UK have, for the first time, shown how exhaust pollution from diesel engines is able to affect nerves within the lung. Air pollution is a significant threat to health, they say, and identifying potential mechanisms linking exposure to diesel exhaust and the exacerbation of respiratory diseases may lead to treatments for those affected.

Mr. Ryan Robinson, a PhD student at the National Heart and Lung Institute, Imperial College London, UK, will tell the 13th European Respiratory Society Lung Science Conference today (Saturday) about his work studying particles and airway . The news comes as the Healthy Lungs for Life campaign, launched by the European Respiratory Society and European Lung Foundation, takes places this year aiming to raise awareness of the importance of breathing clean air.

Diesel exhaust is a significant component of urban , containing a complicated mixture of gases and airborne particles. "Studies have shown that exposure to these particles is associated with harmful health effects," says Mr. Robinson. "These particles are very small - down to 20 nanometres in diameter - and are therefore not only invisible to the naked eye, but can penetrate deep into the lungs."

The lungs contain numerous sensory nerves that can detect potentially harmful stimuli and thus allow the body to respond, for example by triggering a cough. "However, we know that these nerves can also be involved in exacerbating respiratory conditions, for example by causing the bronchi to constrict in diseases such as asthma," says Mr. Robinson

The researchers, who included Mr. Robinson's supervisors Professor Maria Belvisi, Professor Terry Tetley and Professor Alexandra Porter, found that the diesel particles from a forklift truck could activate airway sensory nerves in an in vivo anaesthestised guinea pig model. "It was interesting to see that the more chemically sensitive airway nerves were involved, rather than the mechanically sensitive ones," says Mr. Robinson.

The researchers then used an in vitro isolated nerve preparation that allowed them to probe the mechanisms involved more rapidly. "The first thing we noted was that the particles, when cleaned, were harmless. It was clear that the chemicals isolated from an organic extraction of the diesel particles were key to the activation of the nerve, which backed up the data we saw in vivo," he will tell the conference.

To understand how the diesel extract activated the airway nerves, the researchers used pharmacological and genetic knock out tools. "It is widely known that the environmental sensors known as transient receptor potential (TRP) ion channels are key to airway sensory nerve activation, so we decided to block a variety of different channels to discover whether an extract of diesel could activate any of them," he will say.

The researchers found that the responses to the diesel extract were driven by activation of the TRP ankryin-1 (TRPA1) channel. They also discovered that the application of an antioxidant abolished the responses to the extract. "Oxidative stress, an imbalance between disturbances in the normal oxidative state of cells and the system's ability to repair the resulting damage, is linked to many diseases and is a known TRPA1 activator," says Mr Robinson.

This research is, however, only a first step towards understanding how air pollution may be affecting airway sensory nerves and respiratory reflexes. Whether other types of fuel activate airway nerves remains to be seen, and it is even possible that they may have a far more potent effect in this area than diesel. It will also be crucial to determine whether increased activation of sensory nerves explains why some are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution than others, the researchers say.

"We hope that our work may lead to treatments or management strategies than can help those with such as asthma that are particularly affected by air pollution," says Mr. Robinson. "Our results indicate that our reliance on fossil fuels, and particularly diesel, could have a detrimental effect on our health, supporting the idea that we should be looking towards alternative fuel sources. We believe that our data highlight an important alternative mechanism by which diesel contributes to respiratory illness and will further influence governments in the quest to initiate change," he will conclude.

Explore further: Protein explains increased asthma severity in children exposed to diesel exhaust from traffic

More information: Poster title: Diesel exhaust particles (DEP) initiate sensory reflex events via activation of transient potential receptor ankrin-1 (TRPA1) ion channels, Saturday 14 March 2015, 11:40-14:30

Related Stories

Protein explains increased asthma severity in children exposed to diesel exhaust from traffic

September 23, 2013
A new study shows that exposure to diesel exhaust particles from traffic pollution leads to increased asthma severity in children. Moreover, the study finds that this is due to increased blood levels of IL-17A, a protein ...

Breathing in diesel exhaust leads to changes "deep under the hood"

January 8, 2015
Just two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust fumes can lead to fundamental health-related changes in biology by switching some genes on, while switching others off, according to researchers at the University of British Columbia ...

California scientists link tiny particles in car exhaust to heart disease

March 3, 2015
A new study by California scientists has linked chronic exposure to microscopic air pollutants in vehicle exhaust to deaths from heart disease. The finding bolsters evidence that ultrafine particles, which are not regulated ...

More toxicity in canola-based biodiesel

November 4, 2014
Exhaust from pure canola oil biodiesel is more lethal for human epithelial cells than that from traditional diesel, new research contends.

Half of inhaled diesel soot gets stuck in the lungs: study

June 27, 2012
The exhaust from diesel-fuelled vehicles, wood fires and coal-driven power stations contains small particles of soot that flow out into the atmosphere. The soot is a scourge for the climate but also for human health. Now ...

Researchers find link between pulmonary inflammation, diesel exhaust, house dust

December 14, 2011
A study conducted by researchers at Boston University School of Medicine (BUSM) has found that diesel exhaust particulates (DEP) and house dust extract (HDE) causes pulmonary inflammation that aggravates asthma. The study ...

Recommended for you

Moderate carbohydrate intake may be best for health

August 17, 2018
Eating carbohydrates in moderation seems to be optimal for health and longevity, suggests new research published in The Lancet Public Health journal.

Like shark attack and the lottery, unconscious bias influences cancer screening

August 17, 2018
What do shark attack, the lottery and ovarian cancer screening having in common? It turns out our judgments about these things are all influenced by unconscious bias.

Phantom odors: One American in 15 smells odors that aren't there, study finds

August 16, 2018
Imagine the foul smell of an ash tray or burning hair. Now imagine if these kinds of smells were present in your life, but without a source. A new study finds that 1 in 15 Americans (or 6.5 percent) over the age of 40 experiences ...

US drug overdose deaths surge amid fentanyl scourge

August 16, 2018
US drug overdose deaths surged to nearly 72,000 last year, as addicts increasingly turn to extremely powerful synthetic opioid fentanyl as the supply of prescription painkillers has tightened.

Parental life span predicts daughters living to 90 without chronic disease or disability

August 15, 2018
Researchers at the University of California San Diego School of Medicine report that women whose mothers lived to at least age 90 were more likely to also live to 90, free of serious diseases and disabilities.

Widespread declines in life expectancy across high income countries coincide with rising young adult, midlife mortality

August 15, 2018
The ongoing opioid epidemic in the United States is a key contributor to the most recent declines in life expectancy, suggests a study published by The BMJ today.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.