Air pollution confirmed to have multi-generational damaging effect on future offspring

An animal study published online on The FASEB Journal revealed that in utero exposure to air pollutants such as diesel exhaust may alter DNA and gene expressions, which in turn may raise the risk of developing heart failure in adulthood. To carry out the study, a team of researchers at the University of Washington School of Medicine’s Center for Cardiovascular Biology examined four groups of mice and exposed them to both diesel exhaust and filtered air.

The first group was exposed gestationally to filtered air and had sham surgery, while the second group was exposed gestationally to diesel exhaust particles and were then subjected to sham surgery. The third group was exposed gestationally to filtered air and then underwent transverse aortic constriction (TAC) surgery, while the fourth group was exposed gestationally to diesel exhaust particles and subsequently had TAC surgery.

The researchers then compared heart gene expression between the four groups. The scientists were able to identify three distinct candidate genes that had a different expression in diesel-exposed mice that underwent TAC surgery. According to the research team, this group developed the worst heart failure. The experts also found that one of the genes methylated differently following an exposure to diesel particulate.

“Our study adds to the large body of evidence that air pollution exposure has significant harmful effects on the cardiovascular system, and extends these findings to show the effects of this exposure on the developing heart — effects that can last for decades. By demonstrating this potential public and global health problem, we hope that our study prompts leaders to develop thoughtful environmental regulatory policies that promote the health and well-being of future generations,” researcher Dr. Michael Chin told

The recent study was the first one to determine the effects of in utero air pollution exposure on DNA methylation.

Previous studies show link between air pollution, heart risk

The recent findings were reflective of previous studies indicating a link between air pollution and cardiovascular diseases. For instance, a study published in April this year revealed that minute air particles evade the lung’s filtration systems and enter the body’s blood stream. The researchers also noted that these particles may remain in the body for as long as three months. The researchers noted that while inert gold nanoparticles were used in the study, the same mechanism may be seen when people get exposed to ambient air pollution. (Related: Air pollution increases risk of heart disease and stroke, study says.)

In another study, ambient air pollution exposure was tied to increased odds of cardiovascular disorders such as heart attack and stroke. To carry out the study, the scientists examined data on 6,800 diverse participants and the air quality in six regions where they reside.  The researchers found that long-term exposure to particulate matter and nitrogen oxides may result in the premature aging of the blood vessels. This, in turn, causes a more rapid calcium accumulation in the coronary artery. According to the researchers, this build up may stem proper blood flow to the heart and major blood vessels, thus increasing the odds of cardiovascular incidents. The findings were published in The Lancet journal.

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