Exposure to particulate matter (PM) is generally associated with elevated risk of cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Elderly and obese subjects may be particularly susceptible, although short-term effects are poorly described.
Sixty healthy subjects (25 males, 35 females, age 55 to 83 years, body mass index > 25 kg/m2) were included in a cross-over study with 5 hours of exposure to particle- or sham-filtered air from a busy street using an exposure-chamber. The sham- versus particle-filtered air had average particle number concentrations of ~23.000 versus ~1800/cm3 and PM2.5 levels of 24 versus 3μg/m3, respectively. The PM contained similar fractions of elemental and black carbon (~20-25%) in both exposure scenarios. Reactive hyperemia and nitroglycerin-induced vasodilation in finger arteries and heart rate variability (HRV) measured within 1 h after exposure were primary outcomes. Potential explanatory mechanistic variables included markers of oxidative stress (ascorbate/dehydroascorbate, nitric oxide-production cofactor tetrahydrobiopterin and its oxidation product dihydrobiopterin) and inflammation markers (C-reactive protein and leukocyte differential counts).
Nitroglycerin-induced vasodilation was reduced by 12% [95% confidence interval: −22%; −1.0%] following PM exposure, whereas hyperemia-induced vasodilation was reduced by 5% [95% confidence interval: −11.6%; 1.6%]. Moreover, HRV measurements showed that the high and low frequency domains were significantly decreased and increased, respectively. Redox and inflammatory status did not change significantly based on the above measures.
This study indicates that exposure to real-life levels of PM from urban street air impairs the vasomotor function and HRV in overweight middle-aged and elderly adults, although this could not be explained by changes in inflammation, oxidative stress or nitric oxide-cofactors.