It is a well known fact that air pollution is a significant threat to health. Now scientists in UK have, for the very first time, shown how exhaust pollution from diesel engines is able to affect nerves within the lung and causes respiratory distress.
Diesel exhaust is a significant component of urban air pollution and contains a complicated mixture of gases and airborne particles. Mr. Ryan Robinson, a PhD student at Imperial College London, UK, said, "Studies have proved that exposure to the diesel particles, which are down to 20 nanometres in diameter, was associated with harmful health effects. The lungs contain numerous sensory nerves that can detect potentially harmful stimuli and thus allow the body to respond, for example by triggering a cough. However, we know that these nerves can also be involved in exacerbating respiratory conditions, for example by causing the bronchi to constrict in diseases such as asthma."
The researchers used pharmacological and genetic knock out tools to understand how the diesel extract activated the airway nerves. They found that the responses to the diesel extract were driven by activation of the TRP ankryin-1 (TRPA1) channel. They also discovered that application of an antioxidant abolished the responses to the extract.
However, researchers stressed that this is only the first step towards understanding how air pollution affects airway sensory nerves and respiratory reflexes. "Whether other types of fuel activate airway nerves remains to be seen, and it is even possible that they may have a far more potent effect in this area than diesel. It will also be crucial to determine whether increased activation of sensory nerves explains why some are more susceptible to the effects of air pollution than others," said the researchers.
The study was presented at the 13th European Respiratory Society Lung Science Conference.