Metabolon Logo
Metabolon Logo

The Metabolomic Significance of Air Pollution

air pollution affects metabolome

Studies document the significance of air pollution on metabolomic signatures, specifically blood metabolome, and the role of air pollutants in awakening cancerous mutations in otherwise healthy individuals.1,2 Exposure to air pollutant compounds via the skin and respiratory system correlates with inflammation and oxidized stress, even in those with no prior malignancies.1,2 Recent research from the Francis Crick Institute explored the role of air pollutants in impacting cancerous mutations, noting that the pollution does not directly cause cancers, but rather exposure to PM2.5 releases interleukin-1-beta in lungs, which both increases inflammation and initiates cell activity to repair damage, some of which include potentially cancerous mutations.3

These studies illustrate the value of metabolomics analysis in the detection of air pollution detection for several indications: inflammation and oxidative stress, immunity, and nucleic acid damage within a host. As a result, routine metabolomics analysis can function as a viable predictor for health for those in dense urban and industrial pollutant areas.

Air Pollutants as Intermediaries for Inflammation

The impact of one’s environment on maintaining healthy biology is unquestionable, but fully characterizing the impact and significance of specific environmental intermediaries of inflammation is still an area of novel research, and Metabolon’s Global Discovery Panel can be leveraged to explore such impacts of air pollutants, as a recent study just did.3 Research on air pollutants acknowledges that the body cannot completely eradicate pollutants once absorbed, making their accumulation in the body over time probable. Further, the presence of long-term pollutants and the body’s repeated attempts to clear them result in inflammation. One study quantified 1158 metabolites and documented long-term PM2.5 and temperature exposure with eight perturbed metabolic pathways: sphingolipid, glycerophospholipid, beta-alanine, glutathione, propanoate, biosynthesis of unsaturated fatty acids, as well as purine metabolism, and taurine and hypotaurine metabolism.1 Data link the identified metabolic pathways to inflammation as well as oxidative stress.1,4,5,6  By identifying associations between pollutants and the biosynthesis of inflammatory markers, researchers can discover new therapies for the treatment and prevention of major diseases.

Wider Metabolomic Signatures Affected by Air Pollutants

Further, Metabolon’s Global Discovery Panel can quantify additional metabolomic signatures. Beyond inflammation, research shows that air pollutants contribute to other metabolomic signatures, including stress and adverse immune response. In particular, data connect air pollution to increased risk for stroke and dementia.7 Additionally, air pollutants impact wider metabolomic signatures, with negative implications for fertility, including for those undergoing assisted reproduction.8 As such, metabolomic analyses, such as those possible through Metabolon’s panels, offer several pathways for properly characterizing the impacts of air pollution on an array of malignancies. The potential global health impacts of this research are significant.

Impact of Air Pollution on Blood Metabolome

Moreover, Metabolon’s Global Discovery Panels can be leveraged to characterize the impacts of air pollution, as studies are already documenting air pollutants’ effects on the blood metabolome.9 Mass spectrometry metabolomic profiling noted alterations to peripheral blood directly linked to both short- and long-term air pollutant exposure. Specifically, the study identified associated features: sphingosine, linoleate, L-tyrosine, and phenylalanine, among others.9 Metabolic changes in peripheral blood were thus correlated with PM2.5, and other air pollutants. With this in mind, the Metabolon panel can be leveraged for several research indications as it is compatible with many disease states.

Air Pollution’s Correlation with Oncology Research

Another such application for Metabolon’s Global Discovery Panel is oncology. Recent data now flags the mechanism of how air pollution contributes to cancer.3 In particular, the research shows air pollution increases inflammation, which activates typically inactive cells that carry cancer-causing mutations.3 In conjunction, the inflammation with the mutations can cause tumors.3 Such findings promote the viability of metabolomic and multi-omics research to derive insights into predictive diagnostics for an array of cancers, as well as a potential avenue for preventive treatments for at-risk cohorts. Our panel can support such research endeavors’ metabolomics profiling.

Using Untargeted Metabolomics for Researching Air Pollution

Further, our panel can work for untargeted metabolomics profiling for air pollution research and beyond. In particular, untargeted metabolomics profiling has already documented the impact of air pollution.9 For example, one study noted air pollutant compounds and endogenous metabolites in peripheral blood by leveraging untargeted mass spectrometry for metabolomic profiling.9 Resulting data demonstrated correlations between metabolomic features and both short- and long-term pollutants ranging from PM2.5 to NO2.9. In addition, applications for untargeted metabolomic profiling extend to additional indications, such as human skeletal muscle aging.10 The Metabolon Global Discovery Panel can further research in these areas.

Targeted Metabolomics Applications for Air Pollution

In addition to taking an untargeted metabolomics approach, Metabolon offers targeted metabolomic profiling solutions. Though not always possible, targeted panels could be used for routine analysis, such as in the case of sphingolipids. For instance, this targeted metabolomic panel details the presence and significance of sphingolipids within a sample. When combined with large cohort or multi-cohort studies, targeted panels may provide insights into the standard deviation of inflammation-based metabolites for cohorts residing in low-pollution versus high-pollution areas. In such cases, targeted panels can help to better predict the risk of major diseases or disorders in the future as a result of exposure to air pollution. As such, Metabolon’s panels can support research for an array of targeted disease areas.

Implications of Metabolomics in Research

Metabolomics and multi-omics research can be leveraged to research an array of malignancies further. Contact the team at Metabolon to see how metabolomics and our platform can empower your research, too. 

Ready to see what new insights metabolomics can help your research reveal? Contact us today to learn more.


  1. Nassan FL, Kelly RS, Kosheleva A, Koutrakis P, Vokonas PS, Lasky-Su JA, Schwartz JD. Metabolomic signatures of the long-term exposure to air pollution and temperature. Environ Health. 2021;20:3.
  2. Nassan FL, Kelly RS, Koutrakis P, Vokonas PS, Lasky-Su JA, Schwartz JD. Metabolomic signatures of the short-term exposure to air pollution and temperature. Environ Res. 2021;201:111553. doi:10.1016/j.envres.2021.111553
  3. Scientists reveal how air pollution can cause lung cancer in people who have never smoked. The Francis Crick Institute. 10 September 2022.
  4. Chen JC, Schwartz J. Metabolic syndrome and inflammatory responses to long-term particulate air pollutants. Environ Health Perspect. 2008;116(5):612–7.
  5. Nwanaji-Enwerem JC, Wang W, Nwanaji-Enwerem O, et al. Association of Long-term Ambient Black Carbon Exposure and Oxidative Stress Allelic Variants with Intraocular Pressure in older men. JAMA Ophthalmol. 2019;137(2):129–37.
  6. Panasevich S, Leander K, Rosenlund M, et al. Associations of long- and short-term air pollution exposure with markers of inflammation and coagulation in a population sample. Occup Environ Med. 2009;66(11):747–53.
  7. Béjot Y, Reis J, Giroud M, Feigin V. A review of epidemiological research on stroke and dementia and exposure to air pollution. Intern Journal of Stroke. 2018;13(7):687-695. doi:10.1177/1747493018772800
  8. Gaskins AJ, Tang Z, Hood RB, Ford J, Schwartz JD, Jones DP, Laden F, Liang D; EARTH Study Team. Periconception air pollution, metabolomic biomarkers, and fertility among women undergoing assisted reproduction. Environ Int. 2021;155:106666. Doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2021.106666
  9. Vlaanderen  J, Keski-Rahkonen, Kiss A; van Veldhoven K, Hoek G, Probst-Hensch N, Naccarati A, Amaral A, Gulliver J, Chadeau-Hyam M, Vineis P, Scalbert A, Vermeulen R. Changes in the blood metabolome in relation to air pollution exposure: results from the EXPOsOMICS project. Environ Epidemiology. 2019;3:417 .doi: 10.1097/01.EE9.0000610668.40487.95
  10. Wilkinson DJ, Rodriguez-Blanco G, Dunn WB, Phillips BE, Williams JP, Greenhaff PL, Smith K, Gallagher IJ, Atherton PJ. Untargeted metabolomics for uncovering biological markers of human skeletal muscle ageing. Aging (Albany NY). 2020 Jun 24;12(13):12517-12533. doi: 10.18632/aging.103513. Epub 2020 Jun 24. PMID: 32580166; PMCID: PMC7377844.
Andrew Schwab, Ph.D.
Andrew Schwab, PhD is an accomplished scientist in the fields of stem cell biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience. As a Senior Study Director within our Discovery and Translational Science team, Andrew specializes in planning, coordinating, and interpreting metabolomic studies for academic and pharmaceutical clients across a wide range of disease and therapeutic areas.


Share this article

Contact Us

Talk with an expert

Request a quote for our services, get more information on sample types and handling procedures, request a letter of support, or submit a question about how metabolomics can advance your research.

Corporate Headquarters

617 Davis Drive, Suite 100
Morrisville, NC 27560

Mailing Address:
P.O. Box 110407
Research Triangle Park, NC 27709

+1 (919) 572-1721