Archives of Toxicology

, Volume 90, Issue 12, pp 3029–3044 | Cite as

Toxicity of wood smoke particles in human A549 lung epithelial cells: the role of PAHs, soot and zinc

  • Marco Dilger
  • Jürgen Orasche
  • Ralf Zimmermann
  • Hanns-Rudolf Paur
  • Silvia Diabaté
  • Carsten WeissEmail author
In vitro systems


Indoor air pollution is associated with increased morbidity and mortality. Specifically, the health impact of emissions from domestic burning of biomass and coal is most relevant and is estimated to contribute to over 4 million premature deaths per year worldwide. Wood is the main fuel source for biomass combustion and the shift towards renewable energy sources will further increase emissions from wood combustion even in developed countries. However, little is known about the constituents of wood smoke and biological mechanisms that are responsible for adverse health effects. We exposed A549 lung epithelial cells to collected wood smoke particles and found an increase in cellular reactive oxygen species as well as a response to bioavailable polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. In contrast, cell vitality and regulation of the pro-inflammatory cytokine interleukin-8 were not affected. Using a candidate approach, we could recapitulate WSP toxicity by the combined actions of its constituents soot, metals and PAHs. The soot fraction and metals were found to be the most important factors for ROS formation, whereas the PAH response can be mimicked by the model PAH benzo[a]pyrene. Strikingly, PAHs adsorbed to WSPs were even more potent in activating target gene expression than B[a]P individually applied in suspension. As PAHs initiate multiple adverse outcome pathways and are prominent carcinogens, their role as key pollutants in wood smoke and its health effects warrants further investigation. The presented results suggest that each of the investigated constituents soot, metals and PAHs are major contributors to WSP toxicity. Mitigation strategies to prevent adverse health effects of wood combustion should therefore not only aim at reducing the emitted soot and PAHs but also the metal content, through the use of more efficient combustion appliances, and particle precipitation techniques, respectively.


Wood smoke Particulate matter Lung epithelial cells Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons Soot Metals 



We thank Silvia Andraschko for assistance with TEM, Sonja Mülhopt for providing the WSP samples as well as Susanne Gauggel and Daniel Dietrich for providing additional information on particle characterization. We are also grateful to Sean C. Sapcariu for language proofreading. This study was performed partially in the framework of the Helmholtz Virtual Institute for Complex Molecular System in Environmental Health—Aerosols and Health (HICE, Within the HICE Virtual Institute, combustion aerosol emissions are studied by comprehensive physical and chemical analysis of the aerosols and by monitoring the molecular biological effects of the emissions on cultured cells.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (PDF 23 kb)
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Supplementary material 2 (PDF 28 kb)
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Supplementary material 4 (XLSX 10 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Marco Dilger
    • 1
  • Jürgen Orasche
    • 2
  • Ralf Zimmermann
    • 2
    • 3
  • Hanns-Rudolf Paur
    • 4
  • Silvia Diabaté
    • 1
  • Carsten Weiss
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Campus NorthInstitute of Toxicology and GeneticsEggenstein-LeopoldshafenGermany
  2. 2.Joint Mass Spectrometry Centre—Comprehensive Molecular AnalyticsHelmholtz Zentrum MünchenNeuherbergGermany
  3. 3.Joint Mass Spectrometry Centre—Chair of Analytical Chemistry, Institute of ChemistryUniversity of RostockRostockGermany
  4. 4.Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Campus NorthInstitute for Technical ChemistryEggenstein-LeopoldshafenGermany

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