Environmental pollution and COVID-19: the molecular terms and predominant disease outcomes of their sweetheart agreement.Epidemiol Prev. 2020 Sep-Dec; 44(5-6 Suppl 2):169-182.EP
As the Coronavirus situation (COVID-19) continues to evolve, many questions concerning the factors relating to the diffusion and severity of the disease remain unanswered.Whilst opinions regarding the weight of evidence for these risk factors, and the studies published so far are often inconclusive or offer contrasting results, the role of comorbidities in the risk of serious adverse outcomes in patients affected with COVID-19 appears to be evident since the outset. Hypertension, diabetes, and obesity are under discussion as important factors affecting the severity of disease. Air pollution has been considered to play a role in the diffusion of the virus, in the propagation of the contagion, in the severity of symptoms, and in the poor prognosis. Accumulating evidence supports the hypothesis that environmental particulate matter (PM) can trigger inflammatory responses at molecular, cellular, and organ levels, sustaining respiratory, cardiovascular, and dysmetabolic diseases.To better understand the intricate relationships among pre-existing conditions, PM, and viral infection, we examined the response at the molecular level of T47D human breast adenocarcinoma cells exposed to different fractions of PM. T47D cells express several receptors, including the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR), and ACE2, the main - but not the only - receptor for SARS-CoV-2 entry.PM samples were collected in an urban background site located in the Northern area of the City of Bologna (Emilia-Romagna Region, Northern Italy) during winter 2013. T47D cells were exposed to organic or aqueous (inorganic) extracts at the final concentration of 8 m3 for a 4-hour duration. Both the concentration and the exposure time were chosen to resemble an average outdoor exposure. RNA was extracted from cells, purified and hybridised on 66k microarray slides from Agilent.The lists of differentially expressed genes in PM organic extracts were evaluated by using Metacore, and an enrichment analysis was performed to identify pathways maps, process networks, and disease by biomarkers altered after T47D treatment.The analysis of the modulated genes gave evidence for the involvement of PM in dysmetabolic diseases, including diabetes and obesity, and hypertension through the activation of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) canonical pathway.On the basis of current knowledge, existing data, and exploratory experimental evidence, we tease out the likely molecular interplay that can ultimately tip the disease outcome into severity. Looking beyond ACE2, several additional key markers are identified. Disruption of these targets worsens pre-existing conditions and/or exacerbates the adverse effects induced by SARS-CoV-2 infection. Whilst appropriately designed, epidemiological studies are very much needed to investigate these associations based on our hypothesis of investigation, by reviewing recent experimental and epidemiological evidence, here we speculate and provide new insights on the possible role of environmental pollution in the exacerbation of effects by SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses. This work is intended to assist in the development of appropriate investigative approaches to protect public health.