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Environ Int. 2012 Nov 1;48:71-7. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2012.06.020. Epub 2012 Aug 5.

Air pollution exposure and telomere length in highly exposed subjects in Beijing, China: a repeated-measure study.

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Department of Preventive Medicine, Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, 680 N Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, IL 60611, USA.



Ambient particulate matter (PM) exposure has been associated with short- and long-term effects on cardiovascular disease (CVD). Telomere length (TL) is a biomarker of CVD risk that is modified by inflammation and oxidative stress, two key pathways for PM effects. Whether PM exposure modifies TL is largely unexplored.


To investigate effects of PM on blood TL in a highly-exposed population.


We measured blood TL in 120 blood samples from truck drivers and 120 blood samples from office workers in Beijing, China. We measured personal PM(2.5) and Elemental Carbon (EC, a tracer of traffic particles) using light-weight monitors. Ambient PM(10) was obtained from local monitoring stations. We used covariate-adjusted regression models to estimate percent changes in TL per an interquartile-range increase in exposure.


Covariate-adjusted TL was higher in drivers (mean=0.87, 95%CI: 0.74; 1.03) than in office workers (mean=0.79, 95%CI: 0.67; 0.93; p=0.001). In all participants combined, TL increased in association with personal PM(2.5) (+5.2%, 95%CI: 1.5; 9.1; p=0.007), personal EC (+4.9%, 95%CI: 1.2; 8.8; p=0.01), and ambient PM(10) (+7.7%, 95%CI: 3.7; 11.9; p<0.001) on examination days. In contrast, average ambient PM(10) over the 14 days before the examinations was significantly associated with shorter TL (-9.9%, 95%CI: -17.6; -1.5; p=0.02).


Short-term exposure to ambient PM is associated with increased blood TL, consistent with TL roles during acute inflammatory responses. Longer exposures may shorten TL as expected after prolonged pro-oxidant exposures. The observed TL alterations may participate in the biological pathways of short- and long-term PM effects.

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