Cardiovascular effects of fine and ultrafine particles

J Aerosol Med. 2005 Spring;18(1):1-22. doi: 10.1089/jam.2005.18.1.


Epidemiological studies of the past decades have provided a strong body of evidence that elevated levels of ambient particulate air pollution (PM) are associated with increased cardiovascular and respiratory morbidity and mortality. Exacerbations of ischemic and/or arrhythmic cardiac diseases have been linked to PM exposure. At a workshop held at the GSF- National Center for Environment and Health in November 2003, relevant epidemiological and toxicological data of the past 5 years were compiled and potential biological pathways discussed. Available clinical and experimental evidence lends support to the following mechanisms mediating cardiovascular effects of inhaled ambient particles: (i) pulmonary and/or systemic inflammatory responses inducing endothelial dysfunction, a pro-coagulatory state and promotion of atherosclerotic lesions, (ii) dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system in response to direct reflexes from receptors in the lungs and/or to local or systemic inflammatory stimuli, and (iii) cardiac malfunction due to ischemic responses in the myocardium and/or altered ion-channel functions in myocardial cells. While an increasing number of studies addressing these questions support the notion that PM exposure is associated with cardiovascular effects, these studies at present provide only a fragmentary and at times inconclusive picture of the complex biological pathways involved. The available data are consistent with the occurrence of a systemic inflammatory response and an alteration of autonomic cardiac control, but evidence on endothelial dysfunction, pro-coagulatory states, and PM-related myocardial malfunction is as yet scarce. Further studies are therefore needed to substantiate our current understanding of the pathophysiological links between PM exposure and adverse cardiovascular outcomes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / adverse effects*
  • Animals
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / epidemiology
  • Autonomic Nervous System Diseases / etiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Endothelium, Vascular / physiopathology
  • Heart Diseases / epidemiology
  • Heart Diseases / etiology
  • Humans
  • Lung / blood supply
  • Particle Size
  • Respiration Disorders / epidemiology
  • Respiration Disorders / etiology*