Real-time chemical composition of ambient fine aerosols and related cytotoxic effects in human lung epithelial cells in an urban area

Xinyi Niu, Yichen Wang, Hsiao Chi Chuang, Zhenxing Shen, Jian Sun, Junji Cao, Kin Fai Ho

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


Particulate matter with aerodynamic diameters ≤1 μm (PM1) in the atmosphere, especially that which is emitted from anthropogenic sources, can induce considerable negative effects on the cardiopulmonary system. To investigate the chemical emission characteristics and organic sources in Yuen Long (Hong Kong), both offline and online approaches for PM1 samples were applied by filter-based samplers and a Quadrupole Aerosol Chemical Speciation Monitor (Q-ACSM), respectively. The toxicological effects on human A549 lung alveolar epithelial cells were investigated, and associations between cytotoxicity and organic sources and compositions were evaluated. The organics from the Q-ACSM measurement were the largest contributor to submicron aerosols in both seasons of our study, and the mass fraction was higher in winter (60%) than it was in autumn (46%). Regarding organic sources, the mass fraction of hydrocarbon-like organics (HOA) increased from 7% in autumn to 38% in winter, whereas cooking organics (COA) decreased from 30% in autumn to 18% in winter, and oxygenated organics (OOA) decreased from 63% to 45%. Organic compounds contributed more during pollution episodes, and more secondary ions were formed by means of the oxidation process. Oxidative and inflammatory responses in A549 cells were found with PM1 exposures; the differences in chemical compositions resulted in the higher cytotoxicity in winter than autumn. The cooking organic aerosol in residential area was significantly correlated with cell inflammation. Both elemental carbon and specific inorganic ions (SO42− and Mg2+) contributed to the intracellular cytotoxicity. This study demonstrated that specific atmospheric particulate matter chemical properties and sources can trigger distinct cell reactions; the inorganic ions from cooking emissions cannot be disregarded in terms of their pulmonary health risks in residential areas.

Original languageEnglish
Article number112792
JournalEnvironmental Research
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2022


  • ACSM
  • Cytotoxicity
  • Inflammation
  • Lung health effects
  • PM

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry
  • General Environmental Science


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