Current Environmental Health Reports

, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp 544–578 | Cite as

The Impact of Air Pollution on Our Epigenome: How Far Is the Evidence? (A Systematic Review)

  • Rossella Alfano
  • Zdenko Herceg
  • Tim S. Nawrot
  • Marc Chadeau-Hyam
  • Akram GhantousEmail author
  • Michelle PlusquinEmail author
Environmental Epigenetics (A Baccarelli and A Cardenas, Section Editors)
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Topical Collection on Environmental Epigenetics


Purpose of Review

This systematic review evaluated existing evidence linking air pollution exposure in humans to major epigenetic mechanisms: DNA methylation, microRNAs, long noncoding RNAs, and chromatin regulation.

Recent Findings

Eighty-two manuscripts were eligible, most of which were observational (85%), conducted in adults (66%) and based on DNA methylation (79%).


Most observational studies, except panel, demonstrated modest effects of air pollution on the methylome. Panel and experimental studies revealed a relatively large number of significant methylome alterations, though based on smaller sample sizes. Particulate matter levels were positively associated in several studies with global or LINE-1 hypomethylation, a hallmark of several diseases, and with decondensed chromatin structure. Several air pollution species altered the DNA methylation clock, inducing accelerated biological aging. The causal nature of identified associations is not clear, however, especially that most originate from countries with low air pollution levels. Existing evidence, gaps, and perspectives are highlighted herein.


Air pollution Epigenetics DNA methylation MicroRNAs Noncoding RNA Chromatin 


Funding Information

Support for this work was provided by the project EXPOSOMICS, grant agreement 308610-FP7 European Commission, and by the Plan Cancer-Eva-Inserm research grant.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

Rossella Alfano has a PhD fellowship from Bijzonder Onderzoeksfonds (BOF) Hasselt University.

Human and Animal Rights and Informed Consent

This article does not contain any studies with human or animal subjects performed by any of the authors.

Supplementary material

40572_2018_218_MOESM1_ESM.docx (105 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 105 kb)


Papers of particular interest, published recently, have been highlighted as: •• Of major importance

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rossella Alfano
    • 1
  • Zdenko Herceg
    • 2
  • Tim S. Nawrot
    • 1
    • 3
  • Marc Chadeau-Hyam
    • 4
  • Akram Ghantous
    • 2
    Email author
  • Michelle Plusquin
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Centre for Environmental SciencesHasselt UniversityHasseltBelgium
  2. 2.Epigenetics GroupInternational Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)LyonFrance
  3. 3.Environment & Health UnitLeuven UniversityLeuvenBelgium
  4. 4.Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, The School of Public HealthImperial College LondonLondonUK

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