Exposure to traffic-related air pollution and the composition of the gut microbiota in overweight and obese adolescents

Environ Res. 2018 Feb:161:472-478. doi: 10.1016/j.envres.2017.11.046.


Background: Traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) exposure has been linked to type 2 diabetes and metabolic dysfunction in humans. Animal studies suggest that air pollutants may alter the composition of the gut microbiota, which may negatively impact metabolic health through changes in the composition and/or function of the gut microbiome.

Objectives: The primary aim of this study was to determine whether elevated TRAP exposure was correlated with gut bacterial taxa in overweight and obese adolescents from the Meta-AIR (Metabolic and Asthma Incidence Research) study. The secondary aim was to examine whether gut microbial taxa correlated with TRAP were also correlated with risk factors for type 2 diabetes (e.g., fasting glucose levels). We additionally explored whether correlations between TRAP and these metabolic risk factors could be explained by the relative abundance of these taxa.

Methods: Participants (17-19 years; n=43) were enrolled between 2014 and 2016 from Southern California. The CALINE4 line dispersion model was used to model prior year residential concentrations of nitrogen oxides (NOx) as a marker of traffic emissions. The relative abundance of fecal microbiota was characterized by 16S rRNA sequencing and spearman partial correlations were examined after adjusting for body fat percent.

Results: Freeway TRAP was correlated with decreased Bacteroidaceae (r=-0.48; p=0.001) and increased Coriobacteriaceae (r=0.48; p<0.001). These same taxa were correlated with fasting glucose levels, including Bacteroidaceae (r=-0.34; p=0.04) and Coriobacteriaceae (r=0.41; p<0.01). Further, freeway TRAP was positively correlated fasting glucose (r=0.45; p=0.004) and Bacteroidaceae and Coriobacteriaceae explained 24% and 29% of the correlation between TRAP and fasting glucose levels.

Conclusions: Increased TRAP exposure was correlated with gut microbial taxa and fasting glucose levels. Gut microbial taxa that were correlated with TRAP partially explained the correlation between TRAP and fasting glucose levels. These results suggest that exposure to air pollutants may negatively impact metabolic health via alterations in the gut microbiota.

Keywords: Gut microbiome; Traffic-related air pollution exposure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Air Pollution* / adverse effects
  • California
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Microbiome*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Obesity*
  • Overweight*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Risk
  • Vehicle Emissions*


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Vehicle Emissions