Ultrastructural nasal pathology in children chronically and sequentially exposed to air pollutants

L. Calderón-Garcidueñas, G. Valencia-Salazar, A. Rodríguez-Alcaraz, T. M. Gambling, R. García, N. Osnaya, A. Villarreal-Calderón, R. B. Devlin, J. L. Carson

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80 Scopus citations


Southwest Metropolitan Mexico City (SWMMC) children are repeatedly exposed to a complex mixture of air pollutants, including ozone, particulate matter, and aldehydes. Nasal biopsies taken from these children exhibit a wide range of histopathologic alterations: marked changes in ciliated and goblet cell populations, basal cell hyperplasia, squamous metaplasia, and mild dysplasias. We studied the ultrastructural features of 15 nasal biopsies obtained from clinically healthy children 4 to 15 yr of age, growing up in SWMMC. The results were compared with nasal biopsies from 11 children growing up in Veracruz and exposed to low pollutant levels. Ultrathin sections of nasal biopsies revealed an unremarkable mucociliary epithelium in control children, whereas SWMMC children showed an epithelium comprised of variable numbers of basal, ciliated, goblet, and squamous metaplastic as well as intermediate cells. Nascent ciliated cells, as evidenced by the presence of migratory kinetosomes, were common, as were ciliary abnormalities, including absent central microtubules, supernumerary central and peripheral tubules, ciliary microtubular discontinuities, and compound cilia. Dyskinesia associated with these abnormal cilia was suggested by the altered orientation of the central microtubules in closely adjacent cilia. A transudate was evident between epithelial cells, suggesting potential deficiencies in epithelial junction integrity. Particulate matter was present in heterolysosomal bodies in epithelial cells and it was also deposited in intercellular spaces. The severe structural alteration of the nasal epithelium together with the prominent acquired ciliary defects are likely the result of chronic airway injury in which ozone, particulate matter, and aldehydes are thought to play a crucial role. The nasal epithelium in SWMMC children is fundamentally disordered, and their mucociliary defense mechanisms are no longer intact. A compromised nasal epithelium has less ability to protect the lower respiratory tract and may potentially leave the distal acinar airways more vulnerable to reactive gases. Impairment of mucociliary clearance has the potential to increase the contact time between deposited mutagenic particulate matter and the epithelial surface, thus increasing the risk for nasal carcinogenesis. Chronic exposures to air pollutants affect the whole respiratory tract; the nasal epithelium is an accessible and valuable sentinel to monitor exposures to toxic or carcinogenic substances.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)132-138
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican Journal of Respiratory Cell and Molecular Biology
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001


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