Impact of traffic pollution on telomere length and chronic diseases: Results from the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis and the Mexican-American cohort study

Chih-Chin Liu, The University of Texas School of Public Health


Exposure to air pollutants in urban locales has been associated with increased risk for chronic diseases including cardiovascular disease (CVD) and pulmonary diseases in epidemiological studies. The exact mechanism explaining how air pollution affects chronic disease is still unknown. However, oxidative stress and inflammatory pathways have been posited as likely mechanisms. Data from the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA) and the Mexican-American Cohort Study (2003-2009) were used to examine the following aims, respectively: 1) to evaluate the association between long-term exposure to ambient particulate matter (PM) (PM10 and PM2.5) and nitrogen oxides (NO x) and telomere length (TL) among approximately 1,000 participants within MESA; and 2) to evaluate the association between traffic-related air pollution with self-reported asthma, diabetes, and hypertension among Mexican-Americans in Houston, Texas. Our results from MESA were inconsistent regarding associations between long-term exposure to air pollution and shorter telomere length based on whether the participants came from New York (NY) or Los Angeles (LA). Although not statistically significant, we observed a negative association between long-term air pollution exposure and mean telomere length for NY participants, which was consistent with our hypothesis. Positive (statistically insignificant) associations were observed for LA participants. It is possible that our findings were more influenced by both outcome and exposure misclassification than by the absence of a relationship between pollution and TL. Future studies are needed that include longitudinal measures of telomere length as well as focus on effects of specific constituents of PM and other pollutant exposures on changes in telomere length over time. This research provides support that Mexican-American adults who live near a major roadway or in close proximity to a dense street network have a higher prevalence of asthma. There was a non-significant trend towards an increased prevalence of adult asthma with increasing residential traffic exposure especially for residents who lived three or more years at their baseline address. Even though the prevalence of asthma is low in the Mexican-origin population, it is the fastest growing minority group in the U.S. and we would expect a growing number of Mexican-Americans who suffer from asthma in the future. Future studies are needed to better characterize risks for asthma associated with air pollution in this population.

Subject Area

Environmental Health|Epidemiology

Recommended Citation

Liu, Chih-Chin, "Impact of traffic pollution on telomere length and chronic diseases: Results from the multi-ethnic study of atherosclerosis and the Mexican-American cohort study" (2012). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3518957.