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Airborne environmental fine particles induce intense inflammatory response regardless of the absence of heavy metal elements

Authors: Colaco, M; Duarte, A; Zuzarte, M; Costa, BFO; Borges, O

Ref.: Ecotox. Environ. Safe. 195, 110500 (2020)

Abstract: Airborne environmental particles (EP) more commonly referred as particulate matter (PM) are an illustrative marker of air pollution that is associated with adverse effects on human health. Considering, PM is a complex mixture, not only in terms of its chemical composition, but also in the range of particle size, it is difficult to identify which attribute contributes more for the toxicity. Currently, there is no report about the immunotoxicological effects caused by PM with reduced content of heavy metals. This study intends to address this gap and provides a detailed characterization and immunotoxicity evaluation of PM collected in an urban area with heavy traffic congestion. Environmental particles were separated by different sizes though a sucrose gradient. This method allowed to achieve 4 sized fractions: EP f 15 % with a mean diameter of 284 nm ± 1.86 nm, EP f 25 % with a mean diameter of 461 nm ± 1.72 nm, EP f 35 % with a mean diameter of 1845 nm ± 251 nm and EP f 45 % with a mean diameter of 2204 nm ± 310 nm. Only the fractions with the smallest sizes (EP f 15 % and EP f 25 %) were subsequently studied. The chemical composition of both fractions was not substantially different, and the dominant elements were C, O, Ca and K. Only EP f 25 % showed to have a small amount of Fe. Therefore, the heavy metal elements were eliminated through centrifugation. Essentially, we found that the EP f 15 % was more cytotoxic in RAW 264.7 cells than EP f 25 %, which indicates the smaller size as the motive for the higher toxicity. In addition, both fractions of EP presented a good internalization in macrophages after 2 h exposure and induced the production of reactive oxygen species in a concentration-dependent manner. Moreover, EP f 15 % and EP f 25 % led to a strong secretion of proinflammatory cytokines (TNF-α and IL-6) in human peripheral blood mononuclear cells (hPBMCs) in the 3 concentrations tested. The inflammatory response observed was independent of the presence of heavy metals and endotoxins, since these last were suppressed by using polymyxin B sulfate. This report emphasizes the importance of an adequate physicochemical characterization and adequate controls in the experiments to achieve a right interpretation of the biological effects caused by PM.

DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2020.110500