Polyaromatic hydrocarbons in pollution: a heart-breaking matter

C R Marris, S N Kompella, M R Miller, J P Incardona, F Brette, J C Hancox, E Sørhus, H A Shiels

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article (Academic Journal)peer-review

38 Citations (Scopus)
87 Downloads (Pure)


Air pollution is associated with detrimental effects on human health, including decreased cardiovascular function. However, the causative mechanisms behind these effects have yet to be fully elucidated. Here we review the current epidemiological, clinical and experimental evidence linking pollution with cardiovascular dysfunction. Our focus is on particulate matter (PM) and the associated low molecular weight polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) as key mediators of cardiotoxicity. We begin by reviewing the growing epidemiological evidence linking air pollution to cardiovascular dysfunction in humans. We next address the pollution-based cardiotoxic mechanisms first identified in fish following the release of large quantities of PAHs into the marine environment from point oil spills (e.g. Deepwater Horizon). We finish by discussing the current state of mechanistic knowledge linking PM and PAH exposure to mammalian cardiovascular patho-physiologies such as atherosclerosis, cardiac hypertrophy, arrhythmias, contractile dysfunction and the underlying alterations in gene regulation. Our aim is to show conservation of toxicant pathways and cellular targets across vertebrate hearts to allow a broad framework of the global problem of cardiotoxic pollution to be established. AhR; Aryl hydrocarbon receptor. Dark lines indicate topics discussed in this review. Grey lines indicate topics reviewed elsewhere.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)227-247
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Physiology
Issue number2
Early online date15 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2020


  • air pollution
  • cardiotoxicity
  • cardiovascular dysfunction
  • heart disease
  • oil spills
  • PAH
  • particulate matter
  • phenanthrene
  • PM


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