Inhaled ambient-level traffic-derived particulates decrease cardiac vagal influence and baroreflexes and increase arrhythmia in a rat model of metabolic syndrome

Part Fibre Toxicol. 2017 May 25;14(1):16. doi: 10.1186/s12989-017-0196-2.


Background: Epidemiological studies have linked exposures to ambient fine particulate matter (PM2.5) and traffic with autonomic nervous system imbalance (ANS) and cardiac pathophysiology, especially in individuals with preexisting disease. It is unclear whether metabolic syndrome (MetS) increases susceptibility to the effects of PM2.5. We hypothesized that exposure to traffic-derived primary and secondary organic aerosols (P + SOA) at ambient levels would cause autonomic and cardiovascular dysfunction in rats exhibiting features of MetS. Male Sprague Dawley (SD) rats were fed a high-fructose diet (HFrD) to induce MetS, and exposed to P + SOA (20.4 ± 0.9 μg/m3) for 12 days with time-matched comparison to filtered-air (FA) exposed MetS rats; normal diet (ND) SD rats were separately exposed to FA or P + SOA (56.3 ± 1.2 μg/m3).

Results: In MetS rats, P + SOA exposure decreased HRV, QTc, PR, and expiratory time overall (mean effect across the entirety of exposure), increased breathing rate overall, decreased baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) on three exposure days, and increased spontaneous atrioventricular (AV) block Mobitz Type II arrhythmia on exposure day 4 relative to FA-exposed animals receiving the same diet. Among ND rats, P + SOA decreased HRV only on day 1 and did not significantly alter BRS despite overall hypertensive responses relative to FA. Correlations between HRV, ECG, BRS, and breathing parameters suggested a role for autonomic imbalance in the pathophysiologic effects of P + SOA among MetS rats. Autonomic cardiovascular responses to P + SOA at ambient PM2.5 levels were pronounced among MetS rats and indicated blunted vagal influence over cardiovascular physiology.

Conclusions: Results support epidemiologic findings that MetS increases susceptibility to the adverse cardiac effects of ambient-level PM2.5, potentially through ANS imbalance.

Keywords: Arrhythmia; Autonomic; Baroreflex; Cardiopulmonary; Heart rate variability; Particulate matter; Respiratory; Secondary organic aerosol; Traffic.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Animals
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / etiology
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / physiopathology*
  • Autonomic Nervous System / drug effects*
  • Baroreflex / drug effects*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Heart / drug effects*
  • Heart / innervation
  • Heart / physiopathology
  • Inhalation Exposure
  • Male
  • Metabolic Syndrome / complications
  • Metabolic Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Vehicle Emissions / toxicity*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Vehicle Emissions