February 16, 2009

Pollution linked to asthma, womb changes

Children born in areas with traffic-related pollution may be at greater risk of developing asthma due to womb-acquired genetic changes, U.S. researchers say.

Researchers at the University of Cincinnati and Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health say in a study of umbilical cord blood from New York children, researchers discovered evidence of a possible new biomarker -- an epigenetic alteration in the gene ACSL3 -- associated with prenatal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons.

Senior author Shuk-mei Ho of the University of Cincinnati said the chemical compounds are created as byproducts of incomplete combustion from carbon-containing fuels, resulting in high levels in heavy-traffic areas. Exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons has been linked to diseases such as cancer and childhood asthma.

Our data support the concept that environmental exposures can interact with genes during key developmental periods to trigger disease onset later in life, and that tissues are being reprogrammed to become abnormal later, Ho said in a statement.

The findings are reported in the journal PLoS ONE.