Epidemiological and experimental links between air pollution and type 2 diabetes

Toxicol Pathol. 2013 Feb;41(2):361-73. doi: 10.1177/0192623312464531. Epub 2012 Oct 26.


There is increasing evidence suggesting links between exposure to environmental toxins and susceptibility to type 2 diabetes mellitus (DM). In this review, we summarize the experimental evidence to support this association that has been noted in many epidemiologic studies. Inflammation in response to particulate matter (PM(2.5)) exposure in air pollution represents a common mechanism that may interact with other pro-inflammatory influences in diet and life style to modulate susceptibility to cardiometabolic diseases. The role of innate immune cytokines released from macrophages in the lung is well known. In addition, chemokine triggers in response to air-pollution exposure may mediate a cellular response from the bone marrow/spleen through toll-like receptors (TLRs) and Nucleotide Oligomerization Domain receptors (NLRs) pathways to mediate inflammatory response in organs. Emerging data also seem to support a role for PM(2.5) exposure in endoplasmic reticulum stress-induced apoptosis and in brown adipose tissue dysfunction. Decreased expression of UCP1 in brown adipose tissue may account for reduced thermogenesis providing another link between PM(2.5) and insulin resistance. The implications of an experimental link between air-pollution exposure and type 2 DM are profound as air pollution is a pervasive risk factor throughout the world and even modest alleviation in exposure may provide substantial public health benefits.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data*
  • Animals
  • Canada / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / chemically induced
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / epidemiology*
  • Humans
  • Particulate Matter / analysis*
  • Particulate Matter / poisoning
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity


  • Particulate Matter