The scientists do not yet know whether these effects would be sustained over adult life if air quality circumstances were changed, or if they are otherwise reversible.
"We really wanted to see how this air pollution affects obesity with this early life exposure," Sun said. "In a real-world scenario, it would be very difficult to escape from the pervasive influence of dirty air, an influence that begins very early on in life."
To explore the physiological mechanism behind the pollution's effects on fat cells and inflammation, the researchers tested the same exposure levels in mice that had been genetically modified so they don't carry a gene called p47phox. This gene is a subunit of an enzyme linked to free radicals that lead to the accumulation of inflammatory cells in artery walls and plaque, known as atherosclerosis.
Mice without this gene that were exposed to pollution did not show most of the effects of that exposure that normal mice showed, Sun said.
"When you knock out p47phox, it pretty much alleviates the effects of air pollution," he said. "What this gives us is a potential for future therapeutic options that might target this gene."
More research would be required to further define this mechanism, he noted.
These same researchers do plan to continue studying the effects of fine particulate pollution on health, and have designed a study in humans that will take place in Beijing, China. The project, led by Rajagopalan, will test the effects of air pollution on metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance in patients. Participants will wear personal monitors to gauge their exposure to pollution.
|Contact: Qinghua Sun|
Ohio State University