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J Toxicol Environ Health B Crit Rev. 2012;15(1):1-21. doi: 10.1080/10937404.2012.632359.

Composition of air pollution particles and oxidative stress in cells, tissues, and living systems.

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National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.


Epidemiological studies demonstrated an association between increased levels of ambient air pollution particles and human morbidity and mortality. Production of oxidants, either directly by the air pollution particles or by the host response to the particles, appears to be fundamental in the biological effects seen after exposure to particulate matter (PM). However, the precise components and mechanisms responsible for oxidative stress following PM exposure are yet to be defined. Direct oxidant generation by air pollution particles is attributed to organic and metal components. Organic compounds generate an oxidative stress through redox cycling of quinone-based radicals, by complexing of metal resulting in electron transport, and by depletion of antioxidants by reactions between quinones and thiol-containing compounds. Metals directly support electron transport to generate oxidants and also diminish levels of antioxidants. In addition to direct generation of oxidants by organic and metal components, cellular responses contribute to oxidative stress after PM exposure. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) production occurs in the mitochondria, cell membranes, phagosomes, and the endoplasmic reticulum. Oxidative stress following PM exposure initiates a series of cellular reactions that includes activation of kinase cascades and transcription factors and release of inflammatory mediators, which ultimately lead to cell injury or apoptosis. Consequently, oxidative stress in cells and tissues is a central mechanism by which PM exposure leads to injury, disease, and mortality.

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