Molecular and cellular mechanisms linking air pollution and bone damage

Diddier Prada, Gerard López, Helena Solleiro-Villavicencio, Claudia Garcia-Cuellar, Andrea A. Baccarelli

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

44 Scopus citations


Air pollution is the second most important risk factor associated with noncommunicable diseases after smoking. The effects of pollution on health are commonly attributable to particulate matter (PM), a complex mixture of particles suspended in the air. PM can penetrate the lower respiratory tract and has harmful direct and indirect effects on different organs and tissues. Direct effects are caused by the ability of PM components to cross the respiratory membrane and enter the bloodstream; indirect effects are systemic consequences of the local airway response. Recent work suggests that PM is an independent risk factor for low bone mineral density and osteoporosis-related fractures. Osteoporosis is a common age-related disease closely linked to bone fractures, with severe clinical consequences affecting quality of life, morbidity, and mortality. In this review, we discuss potential mechanisms behind the association between outdoor air pollution, especially PM, and bone damage. The discussion features four main mechanisms: 1) several different atmospheric pollutants can induce low-grade systemic inflammation, which affects bone metabolism through a specific effect of cytokines such as TNFα, IL-1β, IL-6, and IL-17 on osteoblast and osteoclast differentiation and function; 2) some pollutants, particularly certain gas and metal compounds, can cause oxidative damage in the airway and bone cells; 3) different groups of pollutants can act as endocrine disruptors when binding to the receptors in bone cells, changing their functioning; and 4) air pollution can directly and indirectly cause vitamin D deficiency. Characterizing these mechanisms will better define the physiopathology of bone damage, and recognizing air pollution as a modifiable risk factor for osteoporosis will inform environmental policies. Such knowledge will also guide the prevention of fractures due to fragility and help reduce health-related costs.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109465
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Jun 2020
Externally publishedYes


  • Air pollution
  • Bone damage
  • Fractures
  • Mechanisms
  • Osteoporosis
  • Particulate matter


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