According to a new study presented at the European Respiratory Society (ERS) International Congress in Barcelona, Spain, the impact of breathing diesel exhaust fumes may be more severe for females than males. By measuring changes in people’s blood caused by exposure to diesel exhaust, the scientists found more modifications of blood components related to inflammation, infection, and cardiovascular diseases in females than in males.
“We already know that there are sex differences in lung diseases such as asthma and respiratory infections,” said study lead author Hemshekhar Mahadevappa, an expert in chronic inflammatory diseases at the University of Manitoba in Canada. “Our previous research showed that breathing diesel exhaust creates inflammation in the lungs and has an impact on how the body deals with respiratory infections. In this study, we wanted to look for any effects in the blood and how these differ in females and males.”
The researchers enrolled ten healthy, non-smoker participants – five women and five men – and exposed them for four hours to filtered air, and for other four hours to air containing diesel exhaust fumes at different concentrations (20, 50, and 150 micrograms of fine particulate matter (PM2.5) per cubic meter), with a month break in between each exposure.
After each exposure, the participants donated blood samples, which were analyzed through a well-known analysis technology called liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry to detect changes in the levels of different proteins from blood plasma following exposure to diesel exhaust.
The analysis revealed levels of 90 proteins which were clearly different between the female and male volunteers following exposure to diesel exhaust. Some of these proteins are known to play a critical role in inflammation, damage repair, blood clotting, cardiovascular disease, and immunity.
“These are preliminary findings, however they show that exposure to diesel exhaust has different effects in female bodies compared to male and that could indicate that air pollution is more dangerous for females than males,” said study senior author Neeloffer Mookherjee, an associate professor of Internal Medicine and Immunology at the University of Manitoba.
“This is important as respiratory diseases such as asthma are known to affect females and males differently, with females more likely to suffer severe asthma that does not respond to treatments. Therefore, we need to know a lot more about how females and males respond to air pollution and what this means for preventing, diagnosing, and treating their respiratory disease.”
Further research is needed to clarify the function of these proteins in order to better understand their role in the differences between male and female bodily responses to air pollution.