The Impact of Air Pollution on Newborns: Cell Process Changes

When a newborn is born, it is possible to identify protein changes that occurred while the infant was exposed to air pollution. These changes impact cell processes like autophagy, the body's stress-induced "self-eating" of damaged cells.

Individual and distinct reactions to their mother's exposure to air pollution during pregnancy were seen in healthy newborns. Even if infants had been raised in homes located in relatively unpolluted locations, this was still the case.

Olga Gorlanova, a research physician at the University Children's Hospital of the University of Basel in Switzerland, conducted a study that examined how prenatal exposure to air pollution can influence proteins involved in autophagy, aging, and cell remodeling.


The researchers measured eleven proteins that were present in the cord blood of 449 healthy newborns from the Bern Basel Infant Lung Development (BILD) cohort study.

By 2025, the BILD research, launched in Bern in 1999, hopes to enroll 1,000 infants. It examines how genetics and environment affect lung development in infants and young children.

How did the research team conclude their findings?

Gorlanova and associates examined the mothers' exposure to nitrogen dioxide and minuscule PM10 particles, which are defined as particulate matter with a diameter of 10 millimeters or less.

Vehicle emissions, tire and brake wear, and smoke are some of the sources of these pollutants. They found that nitrogen dioxide and PM10 were linked to changes in proteins involved in autophagy.

Our results indicate that NO2, a pollutant formed mainly from traffic emissions, is associated with increased levels of Beclin-1 protein, which is central to initiating autophagy. Exposure to higher NO2 was also linked to decreased levels of SIRT1, which is a protein that plays a protective role in stress resistance, inflammation, and aging. IL-8 is a protein active in certain inflammatory cells.

- Gorlanova

The scientists divided the newborns into four separate groups according to the amount of air pollution they were exposed to while still in the womb. The four clusters varied in their exposure to nitrogen dioxide and PM10 air pollution but had comparable protein concentrations during the study.

Additionally, our work adds to the growing body of evidence that autophagy-related mechanisms may be involved in how human cells react to air pollution. The findings are consistent with evidence from tissue and animal research. Further exploration of these mechanisms may help to better understand the deleterious effects of pollution on infants.

- Gorlanova

When compared to newborns that do not exhibit the same protein reactions to air pollution, the researchers want to know whether those babies will experience more outstanding respiratory issues during infancy and childhood.


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