Ozone and the lung: a sensitive issue

Mol Aspects Med. 2000 Feb-Apr;21(1-2):1-48. doi: 10.1016/s0098-2997(00)00003-0.


Ozone is a powerful oxidant and toxic air pollutant. As a gaseous pollutant, its primary target tissue is the lung and breathing slightly elevated concentrations of ozone results in a range of respiratory symptoms. These include decreased lung function and increased airway hyper-reactivity in 10-20% of the healthy population. Moreover, those with conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) generally experience an exacerbation of their symptoms. Together, these observations suggest that certain individuals are particularly susceptible to this oxidant gas. The primary goal of this review is to examine the basis of this increased sensitivity. Ozone is a highly reactive gas that is consumed by reactive processes on reaching the first interface in the lung, the lung lining fluid compartment. Reactions between ozone and antioxidants tend to dominate in this compartment and these are generally thought of as beneficial, or protective interactions. In those instances when ozone reacts with other substrates in lung lining fluid such as protein or lipid, secondary oxidation products arise which transmit the toxic signals to the underlying pulmonary epithelium. The rules that govern the balance between beneficial and detrimental interactions in the lung lining fluid compartment are not well established but these may contribute, in part, to sensitivity. On reaching the lung surface, secondary oxidation products arising from ozone initiate a number of cellular responses. These include cytokine generation, adhesion molecule expression and tight junction modification. Together, these responses lead to the influx of inflammatory cells to the lung in the absence of a pathogenic challenge. Moreover, lung permeability is increased and oedema develops. The nature and extent of these responses are variable and often not related within an individual. Thus, although an improved appreciation of the general mechanism of action of ozone has been attained in recent years, the basis for individual susceptibility is still unclear.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Humans
  • Lung Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Ozone / adverse effects*


  • Ozone