The adjuvant effect of ambient particulate matter is closely reflected by the particulate oxidant potential

Environ Health Perspect. 2009 Jul;117(7):1116-23. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0800319. Epub 2009 Mar 11.


Background: It has been demonstrated that ambient particulate matter (PM) can act as an adjuvant for allergic sensitization. Redox-active organic chemicals on the particle surface play an important role in PM adverse health effects and may determine the adjuvant effect of different particle types according to their potential to perturb redox equilibrium in the immune system.

Objectives: We determined whether the adjuvant effect of ambient fine particles versus ultrafine particles (UFPs) is correlated to their prooxidant potential.

Methods: We have established an intranasal sensitization model that uses ambient PM as a potential adjuvant for sensitization to ovalbumin (OVA), which enhances the capacity for secondary OVA challenge to induce allergic airway inflammation.

Results: UFPs with a greater polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) content and higher oxidant potential enhanced OVA sensitization more readily than did fine particles. This manifests as enhanced allergic inflammation upon secondary OVA challenge, leading to eosinophilic inflammation and mucoid hyperplasia starting at the nasal turbinates all the way down to the small pulmonary airways. The thiol antioxidant N-acetyl cysteine was able to suppress some of these sensitization events.

Conclusions: The adjuvant effects of ambient UFP is determined by their oxidant potential, which likely plays a role in changing the redox equilibrium in the mucosal immune system.

Keywords: TH2 immune response; adjuvant; allergic inflammation; allergic sensitization; ambient ultrafine particles; asthma; oxidant potential; oxidative stress; redox-active organic chemicals.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Animals
  • Female
  • Immunohistochemistry
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Lung / metabolism
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Nasal Mucosa / metabolism
  • Nose / drug effects
  • Ovalbumin / immunology*
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Particulate Matter / immunology*
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity*
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / chemically induced*
  • Respiratory Hypersensitivity / immunology*


  • Adjuvants, Immunologic
  • Particulate Matter
  • Ovalbumin