In The Field

AAAS: You are what you breathe

I arrived to this morning’s session on air pollution and heart disease breathless and soaking wet. It was pouring rain and my commute from across the river involved a lengthy wait at the bus stop. (I knew I was in trouble when a tow truck rumbled by hauling the very bus I had wanted to board…)

But I made it in time to hear Jesus Araujo from UCLA present his work on ultrafine particles in air pollution. As the name implies, ultrafine particles are a bit smaller than ‘fine’ particles and, Araujo told me, they tend to be overlooked by regulatory agencies. Recent car models, for example, are praised for having lower fine particle emissions but actually release more ultrafine particles, he said.

Air pollution has long been associated with heart disease, and previous work had shown that ultrafine particles contain more chemicals likely to cause oxidative stress (a kind of stress that can lead to inflammation and all sorts of cellular damage). Araujo’s new work suggests that those ultrafine particles can trigger the buildup of plaque in the arteries of mice — in fact, he argues that ultrafine particles may be the major culprits in air pollution that contribute to atherosclerosis. You can read more about some of that work here: http://circres.ahajournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/CIRCRESAHA.107.164970v1.

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