Cardiovascular risk rapidly increased following exposure to air pollution. Changes in human autonomic regulation have been implicated based on epidemiological associations between exposure estimates and indirect autonomic nervous system measurements. We conducted a mechanistic study to test the hypothesis that, in healthy older individuals, well-defined experimental exposure to ultrafine carbon particles (UFP) increases sympathetic nervous system activity and more so with added ozone (O3). Eighteen participants (age >50 years, 6 women) were exposed to filtered air (Air), UFP, and UFP + O3 combination for 3 hours during intermittent bicycle ergometer training in a randomized, crossover, double-blind fashion. Two hours following exposure, respiration, electrocardiogram, blood pressure, and muscle sympathetic nerve activity (MSNA) were recorded at supine rest, during deep breathing, and during a Valsalva manoeuvre. Catechols and inflammatory marker levels were measured in venous blood samples. Induced sputum was obtained 3.5 h after exposure. Combined exposure to UFP + O3 but not UFP alone, caused a significant increase in sputum neutrophils and circulating leucocytes. Norepinephrine was modestly increased while the ratio between plasma dihydroxyphenylglycol (DHPG) and norepinephrine levels, a marker for norepinephrine clearance, was reduced with UFP + O3. Resting MSNA was not different (47 ± 12 with Air, 47 ± 14 with UFP, and 45 ± 14 bursts/min with UFP + O3). Indices of parasympathetic heart rate control were unaffected by experimental air pollution. Our study suggests that combined exposure to modest UFP and O3 levels increases peripheral norepinephrine availability through decreased clearance rather than changes in central autonomic activity. Pulmonary inflammatory response may have perturbed pulmonary endothelial norepinephrine clearance.

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Journal Scientific Reports
Heusser, K., Tank, J., Holz, O, May, M., Brinkmann, J., Engeli, S, … Hohlfeld, J.M. (2019). Ultrafine particles and ozone perturb norepinephrine clearance rather than centrally generated sympathetic activity in humans. Scientific Reports, 9. doi:10.1038/s41598-019-40343-w