• air pollution;
  • particulate matter;
  • inflammation;
  • toxicity;
  • cytokines;
  • gene expression;
  • PCR array;
  • oxidative stress;
  • ROS;
  • macrophages


Exposures to air pollution in the form of particulate matter (PM) can result in excess production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the respiratory system, potentially causing both localized cellular injury and triggering a systemic inflammatory response. PM-induced inflammation in the lung is modulated in large part by alveolar macrophages and their biochemical signaling, including production of inflammatory cytokines, the primary mechanism via which inflammation is initiated and sustained. We developed a robust, relevant, and flexible method employing a rat alveolar macrophage cell line (NR8383) which can be applied to routine samples of PM from air quality monitoring sites to gain insight into the drivers of PM toxicity that lead to oxidative stress and inflammation. Method performance was characterized using extracts of ambient and vehicular engine exhaust PM samples. Our results indicate that the reproducibility and the sensitivity of the method are satisfactory and comparisons between PM samples can be made with good precision. The average relative percent difference for all genes detected during 10 different exposures was 17.1%. Our analysis demonstrated that 71% of genes had an average signal to noise ratio (SNR) ≥ 3. Our time course study suggests that 4 h may be an optimal in vitro exposure time for observing short-term effects of PM and capturing the initial steps of inflammatory signaling. The 4 h exposure resulted in the detection of 57 genes (out of 84 total), of which 86% had altered expression. Similarities and conserved gene signaling regulation among the PM samples were demonstrated through hierarchical clustering and other analyses. Overlying the core congruent patterns were differentially regulated genes that resulted in distinct sample-specific gene expression “fingerprints.” Consistent upregulation of Il1f5 and downregulation of Ccr7 was observed across all samples, while TNFα was upregulated in half of the samples and downregulated in the other half. Overall, this PM-induced cytokine expression assay could be effectively integrated into health studies and air quality monitoring programs to better understand relationships between specific PM components, oxidative stress activity and inflammatory signaling potential. © 2014 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Environ Toxicol 30: 836–851, 2015.