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Epidemiological studies have demonstrated associations of chronic respiratory disease with near-roadway pollutant exposure, effects that were independent of those of regional air pollutants. However, there has been limited study of the potential mechanisms for near-roadway effects. Therefore, we examined the in vitro effect of respirable particulate matter (PM) collected adjacent to a major Los Angeles freeway and at an urban background location. PM was collected on filters during two consecutive 15-day periods. Oxidative stress and inflammatory response (intracellular reactive oxygen species [ROS], IL-1β, IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α) to PM aqueous extract was assessed in THP-1 cells, a model for evaluating monocyte/macrophage lineage cell responses. The near-roadway PM induced statistically significantly higher levels of IL-6, IL-8, and TNF-α (P < 0.01) and a near significant increase in IL-1β (P = 0.06) but did not induce ROS activity (P = 0.17). The contrast between urban background and near-roadway PM-induced inflammatory cytokines was similar in magnitude to that corresponding to temporal differences between the two collection periods. PM-induced proinflammatory protein expression was attenuated by antioxidant pretreatment, and PM stimulation enhanced the activity of protein kinases, including extracellular signal-regulated kinase and c-Jun N-terminal kinase. Pretreatment of THP-1 cells with kinase inhibitors reduced PM-induced proinflammatory mediator expression. The proinflammatory response was also reduced by pretreatment with polymyxin B, suggesting a role for endotoxin. However, the patterns of PM-induced protein kinase response and the attenuation of inflammatory responses by antioxidant or polymyxin B pretreatment did not vary between near-roadway and urban background locations. We conclude that near-roadway PM produced greater inflammatory response than urban background PM, a finding consistent with emerging epidemiologic findings, but these differences were not explained by PM endotoxin content or by MAPK pathways. Nevertheless, THP-1 cells may be a model for the development of biologically relevant metrics of long-term spatial variation in exposure for study of chronic disease.