Air pollution is a big killer. Researchers estimate that smog—particularly the tiniest particles in the mix—contributes to the early deaths of up to seven million people worldwide each year. Harm to fog-filled lungs is an obvious concern, yet air pollution is notably linked to cardiovascular events, including heart attacks and stroke.

And researchers have puzzled over why.

A leading theory is that the teeny particles may cause systemic inflammation and cellular stress that can wear on the cardiovascular system and muck up heart rhythms. But a new study suggests that the nanoparticles have a more direct role in the disease.

In mice and humans, air-pollution-sized nanoparticles slipped from the lungs and into the blood stream. There, they glommed onto plaques in the arteries of both species, directly contributing to atherosclerosis and deadly cardiovascular diseases, researchers report in an upcoming issue of ACS Nano.

The study, led by cardiovascular scientists at the University of Edinburgh, may help researchers better understand cardiovascular health and figure out ways to minimize the risks of air pollution. The findings may also help manufacturers develop safer products, since nanoparticles can now be tested in everything from electronics to medical equipment and pharmaceuticals.

“These findings have immediate relevance for the nanotechnology industry where a diverse range of engineered nanomaterials is being developed for an ever-increasing number of applications,” the authors write.

Source: ARS Technica;