Childhood exposure to environmental particulates increases the risk of development of asthma. The underlying mechanisms may include oxidant injury to airway epithelial cells (AEC). We investigated the ability of ambient environmental particulates to contribute to sensitization via the airways, and thus to the pathogenesis of childhood asthma. To do so, we devised a novel model in which weanling BALB/c mice were exposed to both ambient particulate pollutants and ovalbumin for sensitization via the respiratory tract, followed by chronic inhalational challenge with a low mass concentration of the antigen. We also examined whether these particulates caused oxidant injury and activation of AEC in vitro. Furthermore, we assessed the potential benefit of minimizing oxidative stress to AEC through the period of sensitization and challenge, by dietary intervention. We found that characteristic features of asthmatic inflammation developed only in animals which received particulates at the same time as respiratory sensitization, and were then chronically challenged with allergen. However, these animals did not develop airway hyper-responsiveness. Ambient particulates induced epithelial injury in vitro, with evidence of oxidative stress, and production of both pro-inflammatory cytokines and Th2-promoting cytokines such as IL-33. Treatment of AEC with an anti-oxidant in vitro inhibited the pro-inflammatory cytokine response to these particulates. Ambient particulates also induced pro-inflammatory cytokine expression following administration to weanling mice. However, early-life dietary supplementation with anti-oxidants did not prevent the development of an asthmatic inflammatory response in animals that were exposed to particulates, sensitized and challenged. We conclude that injury to airway epithelium by ambient environmental particulates in early life is capable of promoting the development of an asthmatic inflammatory response in sensitized and antigen-challenged mice. These findings are likely to be relevant to the induction of childhood asthma.
- Received August 18, 2012.
- Accepted November 23, 2012.
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