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Traffic fume particles can damage immune system

Tiny particles of carbon in traffic fumes can damage the immune system’s ability to kill viruses and bacteria, making people more vulnerable to infection, a new study says.

Tiny particles of carbon in traffic fumes can damage the immune system’s ability to kill viruses and bacteria, making people more vulnerable to infection, a new study says

air
Implications of the study's findings are profound for people
living in areas of high air pollution. Picture: Alamy

Tiny particles of carbon in traffic fumes can make people more vulnerable to infection, a new study claims.

A team at Edinburgh Napier University demonstrated for the first time that nano-sized particles found in traffic fumes can damage the immune system’s ability to kill viruses and bacteria.

The study focused on antimicrobial peptides, tiny molecules found in the immune systems of humans and animals which increase in response to infection.

It found that particles contained in air pollution can prevent peptides working properly, as carbon particles can trigger changes in the antimicrobial peptides, potentially resulting in an increased susceptibility to infection.

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Researchers say the implications are profound for people living in areas of high air pollution, who breathe in huge concentrations of particles every day or absorb them through skin contact, especially those with pre-existing lung conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

One of the authors, associate professor of immunology and infection Peter Barlow, said: 'This is an area of research that is very poorly understood.

'We were extremely concerned when we found that air pollution particles could inhibit the activity of these molecules, which are absolutely essential in the fight against infection.

'We urge that strong action plans are put in place to rapidly reduce particulate air pollution in our towns and cities.'


Findlay F et al (2017) Carbon Nanoparticles Inhibit the Antimicrobial Activities of the Human Cathelicidin LL-37 through Structural Alteration. Journal of Immunology. doi.org/10.4049/jimmunol.1700706

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