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Your Environment. Your Health.

Pathogenesis and Mechanisms

Expanding the knowledge base of the biology of the respiratory system at the cellular, biochemical, and molecular level is critical in designing effective and novel strategies for disease prevention and intervention:

Woman adding media to cell culture plates in hood
Culture of human lung fibroblasts for research experiments into the molecular mechanisms of airway inflammation.


  • The respiratory tract is a target for a broad spectrum of air pollutants.
  • Pollutants can cause acute or chronic damage to various tissue compartments and compromise their functions including the defenses against airborne microbial pathogens, thus rendering the host susceptible to respiratory tract infections.
  • Poor air quality and pollutants such as particulate matter, acid aerosols, and aeroallergens can cause airway inflammation and are known risk factors for asthma development, morbidity and mortality.
  • Exposure to environmental oxidants (such as ozone and nitrogen dioxide) produces a variety of reactive oxygen species, which in turn are likely to damage the lung and lead to airway inflammation, mesenchymal cell proliferation, and pulmonary fibrosis.
Examining gel on light table
Laboratory of Respiratory Biology researchers go over results of an experiment with gene knockout mice exposed to a common allergen.


Respiratory biology research is conducted by NIEHS in intramural laboratories such as the Laboratory of Respiratory Biology (formerly the Laboratory of Pulmonary Pathobiology) as well as by grantees in university settings across the U.S.


This research has been enthusiastically supported by the Institute since its inception in the late 1960s.



Research in this program encompasses several areas, including:

  • airway cell biology
  • inflammation
  • mechanisms of toxicity of pollutants
  • translational research
  • clinical studies such as the Asthma Research Program


Research on the relationships between air pollution and lung dysfunction and disease is a high priority for NIEHS. This research is intended to lead to the prevention of or intervention in the environmental components of airway diseases, especially asthma.

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