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Effects of birch pollen and traffic particulate matter on Th2 cytokines, immunoglobulin E levels and bronchial hyper-responsiveness in mice


Correspondence:B. Boris Vargaftig, Unité de Pharmacologie Cellulaire, Institut Pasteur, 25, rue du Dr Roux, 75015 Paris, France. E-mail:


Background Health effects due to air pollution arizing from motor vehicles are a major public and political concern world-wide. Epidemiological studies have shown that the manifestations of asthma are increased by air pollution in already affected individuals.

Objective To investigate the potential role of air-polluted tunnel dust (traffic particulate matter, TPM) or pure carbon core particles in the initiation and persistence of experimental allergic inflammation.

Methods BP2 mice were immunized with birch pollen alone (group B) or pollen together with TPM (group A), or with birch pollen and Al(OH)3 (group C), or with birch pollen and carbon core particles (group D). Before methacholine challenge they were challenged intranasally and thereafter bronchial hyper-reactivity (BHR) was evaluated in a whole-body plethysmograph. Levels of Th2 cytokines, fibronectin and lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) were determined, and differential counts were performed in the bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid. Sera were collected for determination of antibody titres and cytokine levels.

Results Specific IgE titres, BHR, the number of recruited eosinophils and levels of fibronectin and LDH in BAL were increased in mice immunized and challenged with a mixture of birch pollen and TPM. However, mice immunized with birch pollen alone and challenged intranasally with pollen or a mixture of pollen and TPM demonstrated the highest levels of IL-4 and IL-5.

Conclusion This study highlights the importance of the exposure to a combination of particulate matters and pollen allergens, in the induction of allergic disease in the airways, and we have demonstrated that polluted tunnel dust has an effect on both the inflammatory and immunological components of experimental allergy. Immunization and challenge with carbon core particles together with birch pollen increased neither the BHR nor the specific IgE production significantly. Our results therefore strongly suggest that it is most likely to be the organic phase bound to the carbon core of the diesel exhaust particles that might have an important adjuvant effect in the induction of experimental allergy.