Skip Navigation
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Dot gov

The .gov means it’s official.
Federal government websites often end in .gov or .mil. Before sharing sensitive information, make sure you’re on a federal government site.


The site is secure.
The https:// ensures that you are connecting to the official website and that any information you provide is encrypted and transmitted securely.

Your Environment. Your Health.

Air Pollution Linked to MicroRNA Changes

Andrea Baccarelli, M.D., Ph.D., Lifang Hou, M.D., Ph.D.
Harvard School of Public Heath, Northeastern University
R21ES020010, R21ES020984

Short-term exposure to elemental carbon in air pollution is associated with expression of human and viral microRNAs that may influence immune response and other biological pathways, according to an NIEHS-funded study. MicroRNAs are small non-coding RNA molecules that can suppress expression of certain genes in the body and likely play a role in susceptibility to environmental chemicals.

Researchers examined microRNA profiles for participants in the Beijing Truck Driver Air Pollution Study, which included 60 truck drivers and 60 office workers who were highly exposed to air pollution for a short time. Truck drivers were directly exposed to traffic emissions, particularly from diesel exhausts and road dusts. The office workers represented the highly exposed urban residential population of Beijing, which have a higher exposure to secondary oxidized traffic particles. The researchers obtained data on each participant’s personal exposure to particulate matter and elemental carbon using a personal monitor, and collected daily ambient particulate data from monitoring stations around the city.

Expression of microRNAs was not significantly associated with personal particulate matter exposure. However, short-term elemental carbon exposure was associated with altered expression of 46 human and seven viral microRNAs. The viral microRNAs associated with elemental carbon levels, which differed between office workers and truck drivers, suggest possible mechanisms through which viral miRNAs may worsen the health effects of air pollution.

Citation: Hou L, Barupal J, Zhang W, Zheng Y, Liu L, Zhang X, Dou C, McCracken JP, Diaz A, Motta V, Sanchez-Guerra M, Wolf KR, Bertazzi PA, Schwartz JD, Wang S, Baccarelli AA. 2016. Particulate air pollution exposure and expression of viral and human microRNAs in blood: the Beijing Truck Driver Air Pollution Study. Environ Health Perspect 124(3):344-350.

to Top