Research Papers: Gerotarget (Focus on Aging):

Long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with biological aging

Cavin K. Ward-Caviness, Jamaji C. Nwanaji-Enwerem, Kathrin Wolf, Simone Wahl, Elena Colicino, Letizia Trevisi, Itai Kloog, Allan C. Just, Pantel Vokonas, Josef Cyrys, Christian Gieger, Joel Schwartz, Andrea A. Baccarelli, Alexandra Schneider, Annette Peters _

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Cavin K. Ward-Caviness1, Jamaji C. Nwanaji-Enwerem2, Kathrin Wolf1, Simone Wahl1,3, Elena Colicino4, Letizia Trevisi5, Itai Kloog6, Allan C. Just7, Pantel Vokonas8, Josef Cyrys1, Christian Gieger1,3, Joel Schwartz2, Andrea A. Baccarelli4, Alexandra Schneider1 and Annette Peters1

1 Institute of Epidemiology II, Helmholtz Zentrum München, Neuherberg, Bavaria, Germany

2 Department of Environmental Health, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA

3 Research Unit Molecular Epidemiology, Helmholtz Zentrum München, Neuherberg, Bavaria, Germany

4 Department of Environmental Health Sciences, Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY, USA

5 Department of Global Health and Social Medicine, Harvard Medical School, Boston, MA, USA

6 Department of Geography and Environmental Development, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva, Israel

7 Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, NY, USA

8 VA Normative Aging Study, Veterans Affairs Boston Healthcare System and the Department of Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA

Correspondence to:

Annette Peters, email:

Keywords: epigenetic aging, telomere length, biological aging, air pollution, black carbon, Gerotarget

Received: June 10, 2016 Accepted: October 13, 2016 Published: October 25, 2016


Long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with age-related diseases. We explored the association between accelerated biological aging and air pollution, a potential mechanism linking air pollution and health. We estimated long-term exposure to PM10, PM2.5, PM2.5 absorbance/black carbon (BC), and NOx via land-use regression models in individuals from the KORA F4 cohort. Accelerated biological aging was assessed using telomere length (TeloAA) and three epigenetic measures: DNA methylation age acceleration (DNAmAA), extrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (correlated with immune cell counts, EEAA), and intrinsic epigenetic age acceleration (independent of immune cell counts, IEAA). We also investigated sex-specific associations between air pollution and biological aging, given the published association between sex and aging measures. In KORA an interquartile range (0.97 µg/m3) increase in PM2.5 was associated with a 0.33 y increase in EEAA (CI = 0.01, 0.64; P = 0.04). BC and NOx (indicators or traffic exposure) were associated with DNAmAA and IEAA in women, while TeloAA was inversely associated with BC in men. We replicated this inverse BC-TeloAA association in the Normative Aging Study, a male cohort based in the USA. A multiple phenotype analysis in KORA F4 combining all aging measures showed that BC and PM10 were broadly associated with biological aging in men. Thus, we conclude that long-term exposure to air pollution is associated with biological aging measures, potentially in a sex-specific manner. However, many of the associations were relatively weak and further replication of overall and sex-specific associations is warranted.

Author Information

Cavin K. Ward-Caviness

Jamaji C. Nwanaji-Enwerem

Kathrin Wolf

Simone Wahl

Elena Colicino

Letizia Trevisi

Itai Kloog

Allan C. Just

Pantel Vokonas

Josef Cyrys

Christian Gieger

Joel Schwartz

Andrea A. Baccarelli

Alexandra Schneider

Annette Peters
Primary Contact  _

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