Exposure to Fine Particulate Air Pollution Causes Vascular Insulin Resistance by Inducing Pulmonary Oxidative Stress

Environ Health Perspect. 2016 Dec;124(12):1830-1839. doi: 10.1289/EHP212. Epub 2016 Apr 29.


Background: Epidemiological evidence suggests that exposure to ambient air fine particulate matter (PM2.5) increases the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. However, the mechanisms underlying these effects of PM2.5 remain unclear.

Objectives: We tested the hypothesis that PM2.5 exposure decreases vascular insulin sensitivity by inducing pulmonary oxidative stress.

Methods: Mice fed control (10-13% kcal fat) and high-fat (60% kcal fat, HFD) diets, treated with 4-hydroxy-2,2,6,6-tetramethylpiperidine-1-oxyl (TEMPOL) or mice overexpressing lung-specific extracellular superoxide dismutase (ecSOD) were exposed to HEPA-filtered air or to concentrated PM2.5 (CAP) for 9 or 30 days, and changes in systemic and organ-specific insulin sensitivity and inflammation were measured.

Results: In control diet-fed mice, exposure to CAP for 30 days decreased insulin-stimulated Akt phosphorylation in lung, heart, and aorta but not in skeletal muscle, adipose tissue, and liver and did not affect adiposity or systemic glucose tolerance. In HFD-fed mice, 30-day CAP exposure suppressed insulin-stimulated endothelial nitric oxide synthase (eNOS) phosphorylation in skeletal muscle and increased adipose tissue inflammation and systemic glucose intolerance. In control diet-fed mice, a 9-day CAP exposure was sufficient to suppress insulin-stimulated Akt and eNOS phosphorylation and to decrease IκBα (inhibitor of the transcription factor NF-κB levels in the aorta. Treatment with the antioxidant TEMPOL or lung-specific overexpression of ecSOD prevented CAP-induced vascular insulin resistance and inflammation.

Conclusions: Short-term exposure to PM2.5 induces vascular insulin resistance and inflammation triggered by a mechanism involving pulmonary oxidative stress. Suppression of vascular insulin signaling by PM2.5 may accelerate the progression to systemic insulin resistance, particularly in the context of diet-induced obesity. Citation: Haberzettl P, O'Toole TE, Bhatnagar A, Conklin DJ. 2016. Exposure to fine particulate air pollution causes vascular insulin resistance by inducing pulmonary oxidative stress. Environ Health Perspect 124:1830-1839; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/EHP212.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Cyclic N-Oxides / pharmacology
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Free Radical Scavengers / metabolism
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Lung / drug effects
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Oxidative Stress / drug effects
  • Particle Size
  • Particulate Matter / toxicity*
  • Spin Labels
  • Superoxide Dismutase / metabolism


  • Air Pollutants
  • Antioxidants
  • Cyclic N-Oxides
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Particulate Matter
  • Spin Labels
  • Superoxide Dismutase
  • tempol