If you’re one of those people who always believed that pollution from car exhaust, smoking and dust was bad for your health, you’re absolutely right!

New research by scientists at Trinity College Dublin shows for the first time that exposure to nanoparticles may lead to the development of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases. This study also identified new targets for potential drug treatments to combat these diseases.

Carbon particles emitted by car exhaust, smoking and long term inhalation of dust are already known to be major risk factors for chronic lung inflammation. This new research now raises serious concerns about similar risks posed by the products of nanotechnology.

In this study, scientists looked to see whether exposure to nanoparticles can cause people to develop autoimmune diseases.

They applied many nanomaterials, such as ultrafine carbon black, carbon nanotubes and silicon dioxide particles of different sizes, to human cells from the lining of airway passages and other cells typically exposed to inhaled foreign particles.

At the same time, other researchers carried out similar studies in mice exposed to chronic inhalation of air contaminated with single walled carbon nanotubes.

Overall, the results were clear and convincing: all nanoparticles caused an identical response in human cells and in the lungs of mice - they converted the amino acid arginine into a molecule called citrulline.

The point is that human proteins that contain citrulline instead of arginine as building blocks do not function properly, so they are eliminated by the body’s defense systems. And once it’s been programmed to get rid of citrullinated proteins, the immune system starts attacking its own tissues and organs, leading to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

For the first time, these findings have helped to establish a clear link between nanoparticles and the development of autoimmune diseases. Clearly, there are major health and safety implications when it comes to the manufacture, use and ultimate disposal of nanotechnology products and materials.

Not only that, health experts now believe that preventing citrullination in human proteins might be a promising target for future therapies for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.


Nanoparticles play a role in the development of rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases