Exposure to traffic-related air pollution and bacterial diversity in the lower respiratory tract of children

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Publication Date

June 2021

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BackgroundExposure to particulate matter has been shown to increase the adhesion of bacteria to human airway epithelial cells. However, the impact of traffic-related air pollution (TRAP) on the respiratory microbiome is unknown.MethodsForty children were recruited through the Cincinnati Childhood Allergy and Air Pollution Study, a longitudinal cohort followed from birth through early adolescence. Saliva and induced sputum were collected at age 14 years. Exposure to TRAP was characterized from birth through the time of sample collection using a previously validated land-use regression model. Sequencing of the bacterial 16S and ITS fungal rRNA genes was performed on sputum and saliva samples. The relative abundance of bacterial taxa and diversity indices were compared in children with exposure to high and low TRAP. We also used multiple linear regression to assess the effect of TRAP exposure, gender, asthma status, and socioeconomic status on the alpha diversity of bacteria in sputum.ResultsWe observed higher bacterial alpha diversity indices in sputum than in saliva. The diversity indices for bacteria were greater in the high TRAP exposure group than the low exposure group. These differences remained after adjusting for asthma status, gender, and mother’s education. No differences were observed in the fungal microbiome between TRAP exposure groups.ConclusionOur findings indicate that exposure to TRAP in early childhood and adolescence may be associated with greater bacterial diversity in the lower respiratory tract. Asthma status does not appear to confound the observed differences in diversity. These results demonstrate that there may be a TRAP-exposure related change in the lower respiratory microbiota that is independent of asthma status.