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Researchers show how air pollution can cause heart disease

New York University School of Medicine researchers provide some of the most compelling evidence yet that long-term exposure to air pollution--even at levels within federal standards--causes heart disease. Previous studies have linked air pollution to cardiovascular disease but until now it was poorly understood how pollution damaged the body's blood vessels.

In a well-designed mouse study, where animals breathed air as polluted as the air in New York City, the researchers pinpointed specific mechanisms and showed that air pollution can be particularly damaging when coupled with a high-fat diet, according to new research published in the December 21 issue of JAMA.

"We established a causal link between air pollution and atherosclerosis," says Lung Chi Chen, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Environmental Medicine at NYU School of Medicine and a lead author of the study. Atherosclerosis--the hardening, narrowing, and clogging of the arteries--is an important component of cardiovascular disease.

The study, done in collaboration with the Mount Sinai School of Medicine and University of Michigan, looked at the effects of airborne particles measuring less than 2.5 microns, referred to as PM2.5, the size linked most strongly with cardiovascular disease. The emissions arise primarily from power plants and vehicle exhaust. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has regulated PM2.5 since 1997, limiting each person's average exposure per year to no more than 15 micrograms per cubic meter. These tiny particles of dust, soot, and smoke lead to an estimated 60,000 premature deaths every year in the United States.

Dr. Chen and his colleagues divided 28 mice, which were genetically prone to developing cardiovascular disease, into two groups eating either normal or high-fat diets. For the next six months, half of the mice in each feeding group breathed doses of either particle-free filtered air or concentrated air containing PM2.5 at levels that ave
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Source:New York University Medical Center and School of Medicine


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