Effects of air pollution-related heavy metals on the viability and inflammatory responses of human airway epithelial cells

Int J Toxicol. Mar-Apr 2015;34(2):195-203. doi: 10.1177/1091581815575757. Epub 2015 Mar 24.


Various metals produced from human activity are ubiquitously detected in ambient air. The metals may lead to induction and/or exacerbation of respiratory diseases, but the significant metals and factors contributing to such diseases have not been identified. To compare the effects of each metal and different oxidation states of metals on human airway, we examined the viability and production of interleukin (IL)-6 and IL-8 using BEAS-2B cell line, derived from human airway epithelial cells. Airway epithelial cells were exposed to Mn(2+), V(4+), V(5+), Cr(3+), Cr(6+), Zn(2+), Ni(2+), and Pb(2+) at a concentration of 0.5, 5, 50, or 500 μmol/L for 24 hours. Mn and V decreased the cell viability in a concentration-dependent manner, and V(5+) tended to have a greater effect than V(4+). The Cr decreased the cell viability, and (Cr(+6)) at concentrations of 50 and 500 μmol/L was more toxic than (Cr(+3)). Zn at a concentration of 500 μmol/L greatly decreased the cell viability, whereas Ni at the same concentration increased it. Pb produced fewer changes. Mn and Ni at a concentration of 500 μmol/L induced the significant production of IL-6 and IL-8. However, most of the metals including (V(+4), V(+5)), (Cr(+3), Cr(+6)), Zn, and Pb inhibited the production of both IL-6 and IL-8. The present results indicate that various heavy metals have different effects on toxicity and the proinflammatory responses of airway epithelial cells, and those influences also depend on the oxidation states of the metals.

Keywords: airway epithelial cells; heavy metals; oxidation states of metals; proinflammatory responses; viability.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Chromium / toxicity
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / chemically induced*
  • Interleukin-6 / analysis
  • Interleukin-8 / analysis
  • Lead / toxicity
  • Manganese / toxicity
  • Metals, Heavy / toxicity*
  • Nickel / toxicity
  • Respiratory Mucosa / chemistry
  • Respiratory Mucosa / cytology
  • Respiratory Mucosa / drug effects*
  • Vanadium / toxicity
  • Zinc / toxicity


  • Air Pollutants
  • Interleukin-6
  • Interleukin-8
  • Metals, Heavy
  • Vanadium
  • Chromium
  • Lead
  • Manganese
  • Nickel
  • Zinc