Air Quality, Atmosphere & Health

, Volume 4, Issue 1, pp 53–63 | Cite as

Mechanisms mediating adverse effects of air pollution on cardiovascular hemodynamic function and vulnerability to cardiac arrhythmias

  • Carlo R. Bartoli
  • John J. Godleski
  • Richard L. VerrierEmail author


Epidemiologic studies indicate an association between airborne particulate matter and cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. However, the underlying pathophysiologic mechanisms require further investigation. This review examines insights derived from large animal inhalation studies on systemic and coronary hemodynamic function and susceptibility to cardiac arrhythmias. We present evidence of acute cardiovascular alterations in chronically instrumented or anesthetized large animals exposed to concentrated ambient particles. Significant changes were observed in a number of clinically relevant variables. These included elevations in arterial blood pressure and reductions in myocardial perfusion during coronary occlusion that resulted in the exacerbation of ischemic parameters, such as ST-segment elevation and vasoconstriction. The involvement of sympathetic nerve activity was implicated by the fact that alpha-adrenergic blockade with prazosin significantly blunted the vasoconstrictor effects. Alterations in baroreceptor function during air particulate exposure were also substantial. Enhanced susceptibility to both atrial and ventricular arrhythmias was demonstrated. These studies with clinically relevant large animal models underscore the importance of the role of air particulate pollution in inducing adverse effects on cardiovascular function and warrant further exploration of specific components of air pollution as well as the physiologic triggers that lead to cardiovascular events. New clinically applicable research tools have evolved, particularly heart rate turbulence, a noninvasive measure of baroreceptor function, and T-wave alternans, an index of susceptibility to life-threatening arrhythmias, which can be employed clinically to evaluate the impact of air pollution on cardiovascular risk.


Myocardial ischemia Myocardial infarction Sudden cardiac death Atrial fibrillation Cardiac arrhythmias Hypertension Autonomic nervous system 



This study was supported by grants RD831917, R827353, and R832416 from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and by grants ES012972 and ES00002 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), National Institutes of Health (NIH), and by a grant from the David Rockefeller Foundation at Harvard University.

Dr. Verrier is co-inventor of the modified moving average method for analysis of T-wave alternans, with patents assigned to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and licensed by GE Healthcare, Inc. He receives funding for studies on T-wave alternans from National Institutes of Health, American Heart Association, and Medtronic, Inc.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carlo R. Bartoli
    • 1
  • John J. Godleski
    • 2
    • 3
  • Richard L. Verrier
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
    Email author
  1. 1.MD/PhD Program, Department of Physiology and BiophysicsUniversity of Louisville School of MedicineLouisvilleUSA
  2. 2.Molecular and Integrative Physiological Sciences Program, Department of Environmental HealthHarvard School of Public HealthBostonUSA
  3. 3.Department of Pathology, Brigham & Women’s HospitalBostonUSA
  4. 4.Department of Medicine, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical CenterBostonUSA
  5. 5.Beth Israel Deaconess Medical CenterBostonUSA

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