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Environ Res. 2012 May;115:26-36. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2012.03.001. Epub 2012 Mar 31.

Selected physiological effects of ultrafine particles in acute cardiovascular morbidity.

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Health Canada, Air Health Effects Science Division, 269 Laurier Avenue West, 3rd Floor, AL 4903C, Ottawa, ON, Canada K1A 0K9.


Ultrafine particles (UFPs) have emerged as a potentially important environmental health concern as they are produced in large numbers by vehicle emissions and may contribute to previously reported associations between traffic pollution and acute cardiovascular morbidity. This review examines recent epidemiological evidence of UFP exposures and selected physiological outcomes that may be modified as part of the underlying causal pathway(s) linking particulate air pollution and acute cardiovascular morbidity. Outcomes examined included changes in heart rate variability (HRV) (autonomic function), ST-segment depression (myocardial ischemia), QT-interval (ventricular repolarization), and endothelial vasomotor function. Twenty-two studies were reviewed in total: 10 prospective panel studies and 12 randomized cross-over studies. Sixteen studies identified a significant relationship between UFPs and at least one of the above outcomes and current evidence generally supports the biological plausibility of a relationship between UFPs and acute cardiovascular morbidity. However, discrepancies were apparent in the direction of observed associations, particularly for HRV and ventricular repolarization. Reasons for these discrepancies may include differences in particle composition, time-point of clinical evaluation, and population susceptibilities. Nevertheless, evidence to date suggests that UFPs have a measureable impact on physiological measures known to be altered in cases of acute cardiovascular morbidity. Moving forward, expanded use of personal exposure measures is recommended for prospective panel studies to minimize exposure misclassification. In addition, effort should be made to include more women in studies of the acute cardiovascular effects of UFPs as findings to date generally reflect responses in men.

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