Early-life exposure to three size-fractionated ultrafine and fine atmospheric particulates in Beijing exacerbates asthma development in mature mice

Mei Mei, Haojun Song, Lina Chen, Bin Hu, Ru Bai, Diandou Xu, Ying Liu, Yuliang Zhao, Chunying Chen

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53 Scopus citations


Background: Epidemiological studies have suggested that elevated levels of air pollution contribute to an increased incidence or severity of asthma. Although late-onset adult asthma seems to be more attributable to environmental risk factors, limited data is available on the impact of early-life exposure to size-fractionated ambient particulate matter (PM) on asthma in adults. We aimed to determine the effect on the development and exacerbation of asthma in the adult after the mice were exposed as juveniles to three size-fractionated ambient particulates collected from Beijing. Methods: The three size-fractionated ambient particulates were collected from urban Beijing in winter, heavily affected by traffic and coal-fired emissions. The typical morphological and major chemical components of the PM were characterized first. Oxidative stress and expression of DNA methyltransferases (DNMTs) were then examined in vitro and in the lungs of mouse pups 48 h after exposure to PM by oropharyngeal aspiration. When the exposed and control juvenile mice matured to adulthood, an antigen-induced asthma model was established and relevant bio-indices were assessed. Results: PM with different granularities can induce oxidative stress; in particular, F1, with the smallest size (< 0.49 μm), decreased the mRNA expression of DNMTs in vitro and in vivo the most significantly. In an asthma model of adult mice, previous exposure as juveniles to size-fractionated PM caused increased peribronchiolar inflammation, increased airway mucus secretion, and increased production of Th2 cytokines and chemokines. In general, F1 and F2 (aerodynamic diameter < 0.95 μm) particulates affected murine adult asthma development more seriously than F3 (0.95-1.5μm). Moreover, F1 led to airway inflammation in the form of both increased neutrophils and eosinophils in BALF. The activation of the TGF-β1/Smad2 and Smad3/Stat3 signaling pathways leading to airway fibrosis was more profoundly induced by F1. Conclusion: This study demonstrated that exposure to ambient PM in juvenile mice enhanced adult asthma development, as shown by increased Th2 responses, which might be associated with the persistent effects resulting from the oxidative stress and decreased gene expression of DNMTs induced by PM exposure. The observed differences between the effects of three size-fractionated particulates were attributed to particle sizes and chemical constituents, including heavy metals and also PAHs, since the amounts of PAH associated with more severe toxicity were enriched equivalently in the F1 and F2 fractions. Relative to the often mentioned PM2.5, PM with an aerodynamic diameter smaller than 0.95 μm had a more aggravating effect on asthma development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number13
JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 14 2018


  • Adulthood
  • Allergic asthma
  • Early-life exposure
  • Particulate matter

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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