Impact of long-term exposure to PM2.5 on peripheral blood gene expression pathways involved in cell signaling and immune response

Jelle Vlaanderen, Roel Vermeulen, Matthew Whitaker, Marc Chadeau-Hyam, Jouke Jan Hottenga, Eco de Geus, Gonneke Willemsen, Brenda W.J.H. Penninx, Rick Jansen, Dorret I. Boomsma

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2 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Exposure to ambient air pollution, even at low levels, is a major environmental health risk. The peripheral blood transcriptome provides a potential avenue for the elucidation of ambient air pollution related biological perturbations. We assessed the association between long-term estimates for seven priority air pollutants and perturbations in peripheral blood transcriptomics data collected in the Dutch National Twin Register (NTR) and Netherlands Study of Depression and Anxiety (NESDA) cohorts. Methods: In both the discovery (n = 2438) and replication (n = 1567) cohort, outdoor concentration of 7 air pollutants (NO2, NOx, particulate matter (PM2.5, PM2.5abs, PM10, PMcoarse), and ultrafine particles) was predicted with land use regression models. Gene expression was assessed by Affymetrix U219 arrays. Multi-variable univariate mixed-effect models were applied to test for an association between the air pollutants and the transcriptome. Functional analysis was conducted in DAVID. Results: In the discovery cohort, we observed for 335 genes (374 probes with FDR < 5 %) a perturbation in peripheral blood gene expression that was associated with long-term average levels of PM2.5. For 69 genes pooled effect estimates from the NTR and NESDA cohorts were significant. Identified genes play a role in biological pathways related to cell signaling and immune response. Sixty-two out of 69 genes had a similar direction of effect in an analysis in which we regressed the probes on differential PM2.5 exposure within monozygotic twin pairs, indicating that the observed differences in gene expression were likely driven by differences in air pollution, rather than by confounding by genetic factors. Conclusion: Our results indicate that PM2.5 can elicit a response in cell signaling and the immune system, both hallmarks of environmental diseases. The differential effect that we observed between air pollutants may aid in the understanding of differential health effects that have been observed with these exposures.

Original languageEnglish
Article number107491
Pages (from-to)107491
JournalEnvironment International
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022


  • Air pollution
  • Biological pathways
  • Cell signaling
  • Immune system
  • Molecular epidemiology
  • Transcriptomics

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