Short-term transcriptome and microRNAs responses to exposure to different air pollutants in two population studies

Environ Pollut. 2018 Nov;242(Pt A):182-190. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.06.051. Epub 2018 Jun 20.


Diesel vehicle emissions are the major source of genotoxic compounds in ambient air from urban areas. These pollutants are linked to risks of cardiovascular diseases, lung cancer, respiratory infections and adverse neurological effects. Biological events associated with exposure to some air pollutants are widely unknown but applying omics techniques may help to identify the molecular processes that link exposure to disease risk. Most data on health risks are related to long-term exposure, so the aim of this study is to investigate the impact of short-term exposure (two hours) to air pollutants on the blood transcriptome and microRNA expression levels. We analyzed transcriptomics and microRNA expression using microarray technology on blood samples from volunteers participating in studies in London, the Oxford Street cohort, and, in Barcelona, the TAPAS cohort. Personal exposure levels measurements of particulate matter (PM10, PM2.5), ultrafine particles (UFPC), nitrogen oxides (NO2, NO and NOx), black carbon (BC) and carbon oxides (CO and CO2) were registered for each volunteer. Associations between air pollutant levels and gene/microRNA expression were evaluated using multivariate normal models (MVN). MVN-models identified compound-specific expression of blood cell genes and microRNAs associated with air pollution despite the low exposure levels, the short exposure periods and the relatively small-sized cohorts. Hsa-miR-197-3p, hsa-miR-29a-3p, hsa-miR-15a-5p, hsa-miR-16-5p and hsa-miR-92a-3p are found significantly expressed in association with exposures. These microRNAs target also relevant transcripts, indicating their potential relevance in the research of omics-biomarkers responding to air pollution. Furthermore, these microRNAs are also known to be associated with diseases previously linked to air pollution exposure including several cancers such lung cancer and Alzheimer's disease. In conclusion, we identified in this study promising compound-specific mRNA and microRNA biomarkers after two hours of exposure to low levels of air pollutants during two hours that suggest increased cancer risks.

Keywords: Air pollution; Short-term exposure; Transcriptome; microRNA.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis
  • Air Pollution / analysis
  • Air Pollution / statistics & numerical data*
  • Biomarkers
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis
  • Environmental Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • London
  • Lung Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Male
  • MicroRNAs
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Particulate Matter / analysis
  • Research Design
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / epidemiology
  • Transcriptome
  • Vehicle Emissions / analysis


  • Air Pollutants
  • Biomarkers
  • MIRN29a microRNA, human
  • MicroRNAs
  • Nitrogen Oxides
  • Particulate Matter
  • Vehicle Emissions