Ambient air pollution, asthma drug response, and telomere length in African American youth

J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2019 Sep;144(3):839-845.e10. doi: 10.1016/j.jaci.2019.06.009. Epub 2019 Jun 24.


Background: Telomere length (TL) can serve as a potential biomarker for conditions associated with chronic oxidative stress and inflammation, such as asthma. Air pollution can induce oxidative stress. Understanding the relationship between TL, asthma, and air pollution is important for identifying risk factors contributing to unhealthy aging in children.

Objectives: We sought to investigate associations between exposures to ambient air pollutants and TL in African American children and adolescents and to examine whether African ancestry, asthma status, and steroid medication use alter the association.

Methods: Linear regression was used to examine associations between absolute telomere length (aTL) and estimated annual average residential ozone (O3) and fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 μm or less (PM2.5) exposures in a cross-sectional analysis of 1072 children in an existing asthma case-control study. African ancestry, asthma status, and use of steroid medications were examined as effect modifiers.

Results: Participants' aTLs were measured by using quantitative PCR. A 1-ppb and 1 μg/m3 increase in annual average exposure to O3 and PM2.5 were associated with a decrease in aTL of 37.1 kilo-base pair (kb; 95% CI, -66.7 to -7.4 kb) and 57.1 kb (95% CI, -118.1 to 3.9 kb), respectively. African ancestry and asthma were not effect modifiers; however, exposure to steroid medications modified the relationships between TL and pollutants. Past-year exposure to O3 and PM2.5 was associated with shorter TLs in patients without steroid use.

Conclusion: Exposure to air pollution was associated with shorter TLs in nonasthmatic children and adolescents. This was not the case for asthmatic children as a group, but those receiving steroid medication had less shortening than those not using steroids. Reduced exposure to air pollution in childhood might help to preserve TL.

Keywords: Ozone; asthma; children; fine particulate matter with a diameter of 2.5 μm or less; minority; telomeres.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • African Americans*
  • Air Pollutants
  • Air Pollution*
  • Asthma / drug therapy*
  • Asthma / ethnology
  • Child
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Humans
  • Ozone
  • Particulate Matter
  • Steroids / therapeutic use*
  • Telomere*
  • Young Adult


  • Air Pollutants
  • Particulate Matter
  • Steroids
  • Ozone