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Environ Health Perspect. 2001 Aug;109 Suppl 4:523-7.

Ambient particle inhalation and the cardiovascular system: potential mechanisms.

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Biomedicine Research Group, School of Life Sciences, Napier University, Edinburgh, Scotland.


Well-documented air pollution episodes throughout recent history have led to deaths among individuals with cardiovascular and respiratory disease. Although the components of air pollution that cause the adverse health effects in these individuals are unknown, a small proportion by mass but a large proportion by number of the ambient air particles are ultrafine, i.e., less than 100 nm in diameter. This ultrafine component of particulate matter with a mass median aerodynamic diameter less than 10 microm (PM(10) may mediate some of the adverse health effects reported in epidemiologic studies and for which there is toxicologic evidence to support this contention. The exact mechanism by which ultrafine particles have adverse effects is unknown, but these particles have recently been shown to enhance calcium influx on contact with macrophages. Oxidative stress is also to be anticipated at the huge particle surface; this can be augmented by oxidants generated by recruited inflammatory leukocytes. Atheromatous plaques form in the coronary arteries and are major causes of morbidity and death associated epidemiologically with particulate air pollution. In populations exposed to air pollution episodes, blood viscosity, fibrinogen, and C-reactive protein (CRP) were higher. More recently, increases in heart rate in response to rising air pollution have been described and are most marked in individuals who have high blood viscosity. In our study of elderly individuals, there were significant rises in CRP, an index of inflammation. In this present review, we consider the likely interactions between the ultrafine particles the acute phase response and cardiovascular disease.

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