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Inhal Toxicol. 2010 Jul;22(8):679-94. doi: 10.3109/08958371003758823.

Diesel exhaust particulate (DEP) and nanoparticle exposures: what do DEP human clinical studies tell us about potential human health hazards of nanoparticles?

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  • 1Navistar, Inc., Chicago, Illinois 60601, USA.


Engineered nanoparticles (ENPs) are increasingly tested in cellular and laboratory-animal experiments for hazard potential, but there is a lack of health effects data for humans exposed to ENPs. However, human data for another source of nanoparticle (NP) exposure are available, notably for the NPs contained in diesel exhaust particulate (DEP). Studies of human volunteers exposed to diesel exhaust (DE) in research settings report DEP-NP number concentrations (i.e., >10(6) particles/cm(3)) that exceed number concentrations reported for worst-case exposure conditions for workers manufacturing and handling ENPs. Recent human DE exposure studies, using sensitive physiological instrumentation and well-characterized exposure concentrations and durations, suggest that elevated DE exposures from pre-2007 engines may trigger short-term changes in, for example, lung and systemic inflammation, thrombogenesis, vascular function, and brain activity. Considerable uncertainty remains both as to which DE constituents underlie the observed responses (i.e., DEP NPs, DEP mass, DE gases), and as to the implications of the observed short-term changes for the development of disease. Even so, these DE human clinical data do not give evidence of a unique toxicity for NPs as compared to other small particles. Of course, physicochemical properties of toxicological relevance may differ between DEP NPs and other NPs, yet overall, the DE human clinical data do not support the idea that elevated levels of NPs per se (at least in the DEP context) must be acutely toxic by virtue of their nano-sized nature alone.

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