Diesel exhaust affects genes of asthmatics

particleAllerGen researchers at The University of British Columbia (UBC) have published a new study in Particle and Fibre Toxicology, adding to their growing body of research about the relationship between exposure to diesel exhaust and asthma.

Two hours of inhaling diesel exhaust fumes triggered effects at the genetic level among patients with asthma, the study found. The diesel exhaust affected the chemical coating of certain genes involved in allergic disease—a process called methylation—which can cause a gene’s function to be altered without affecting the underlying DNA.

The research was conducted by AllerGen investigators Dr. Christopher Carlsten (Associate Professor of Medicine, UBC) and Dr. Michael Kobor (Associate Professor of Medical Genetics, UBC, Canada Research Chair in Social Epigenetics), as well as AllerGen trainees Drs Ruiwei Jiang, the paper’s first author, Meaghan Jones and Francesco Sava.

Research in the relatively new field of epigenetics has shown that while our inherited genes map out the blueprint of how we develop, genes can be modified—switched on or off, dialled up or down—by factors in the environment. Exposure to diesel exhaust, the study has shown, is one of those factors.

“We believe that this is important because long-term epigenetic changes are inevitably the accumulated product of many short-term phenomena,” says Dr. Carlsten. “By understanding these acute dynamics, we hope to gain a window into the longer-term consequences and potential preventive measures therein.”