Ragweed pollen collected along high-traffic roads shows a higher allergenicity than pollen sampled in vegetated areas


  • Edited by: Reto Crameri


Sandra Citterio, Dipartimento di Science Ambientali, Università di Milano-Bicocca, Piazza della Scienza 1, 20126 Milano.

Tel.: +39 02 64482934

Fax: +39 02 64482996

E-mail: sandra.citterio@unimib.it



Pollutants may affect pollen allergenicity and thus the prevalence of allergies. Although a few studies are available in literature, the connection between pollution and the allergenic potential of pollen has yet to be clearly defined. The objective of this study was to evaluate the effect of traffic-related pollution on the allergenicity of ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia L.) pollen through a field-based experiment.


Mature pollen grains were collected from ragweed plants grown along main roadsides and in vegetated areas of Po river plain. The percentage of sub-pollen particle-releasing grains (SPPGs) was evaluated immediately after sampling by microscope and image analysis. Immunochemistry and LC-MS/MS were applied to assess the whole allergenicity and the allergen pattern characterizing the different pollen samples.


No statistical difference was detected in the percentage of SPPGs among pollen samples. Specifically, after hydration, the mean percentage was very low (<4%) in all the samples, regardless of the site of origin. On the contrary, pollen collected along high-traffic roads showed a higher whole allergenicity than pollen from low-traffic roads and vegetated areas which showed a reactivity similar to that of the commercial pollen ‘Allergon’, used as a standard. The detected higher allergenicity levels were attributed to both quantitative and qualitative differences in allergen pattern.


Our findings show that pollen collected at different sites contains different amount and number of allergens and suggest that traffic-related pollution enhances ragweed pollen allergenicity, which may contribute to the increasing prevalence of ragweed allergy in Lombardy plain.