Epigenetic Effects of Air Pollution

  • Ernesto BurgioEmail author
  • Agostino Di Ciaula


Air pollutants (primarily ultrafine particles) can easily cross the biological barriers (lung-blood barrier, placenta, blood-brain barrier, cell and nuclear membranes) reaching all possible targets (including the central nervous system and embryo-fetal tissues during development), generating oxidative damage, interfering with intracellular signaling, with neuro-immune and endocrine systems, with cellular differentiation and proliferation (including stem cells and gametes), with DNA transcription/translation, and with protein folding. Besides acute effects, through these mechanisms, air pollution promotes a wide panel of chronic noncommunicable diseases both in adults and children: immune and neurodevelopmental (ADHD, autism spectrum disorders) disorders, metabolic (obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes) and neurodegenerative diseases (Alzheimer and Parkinson), and cancer. The burden of all these diseases is rapidly rising worldwide. Genetic factors have a limited impact on this epidemiological transition, whereas a key role seems to be played by early environmentally induced epigenetic variations (DNA methylation, histone acetylation/deacetylation, noncoding microRNAs) leading to altered fetal programming and transgenerational transmission of risk. The ability of common and widespread air pollutants to interfere with the epigenetic setting of cells and with the fetal programming has been widely demonstrated. On the other hand, the increasing knowledge of the health effects of pollution and of the associated pathogenic mechanisms could allow the implementation of primary prevention measures (in particular pointing to the safeguard of pregnancy and the perinatal period) aimed to reduce the growing incidence of chronic diseases and the related unsustainable health costs.


Epigenetics Epigenome Air pollution UFP – ultrafine particles Fetal programming DOHaD – developmental origins of health and disease 


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.European Cancer and Environment Research InstituteBruxellesBelgium
  2. 2.ISDE (International Society of Doctors for Environment)BaselSwitzerland
  3. 3.Division of Internal MedicineHospital of Bisceglie (ASL BAT)BisceglieItaly
  4. 4.ISDE Italia (International Society of Doctors for Environment)ArezzoItaly

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