Effects of Coal Fly Ash Particulate Matter on the Antimicrobial Activity of Airway Surface Liquid

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Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Luis G. Vargas Buonfiglio
Imali A. Mudunkotuwa
Mahmoud H. Abou Alaiwa
Oriana G. Vanegas Calderón
Jennifer A. Borcherding
Alicia K. Gerke
Joseph Zabner
Vicki H. Grassian
Alejandro P. Comellas
Journal Title: 
Environmental Health Perspectives


Sustained exposure to ambient particulate matter (PM) is a global cause of mortality. Coal fly ash (CFA) is a byproduct of coal combustion and is a source of anthropogenic PM with worldwide health relevance. The airway epithelia are lined with fluid called airway surface liquid (ASL), which contains antimicrobial proteins and peptides (AMPs). Cationic AMPs bind negatively charged bacteria to exert their antimicrobial activity. PM arriving in the airways could potentially interact with AMPs in the ASL to affect their antimicrobial activity.


We hypothesized that PM can interact with ASL AMPs to impair their antimicrobial activity.


We exposed pig and human airway explants, pig and human ASL, and the human cationic AMPs β-defensin-3, LL-37, and lysozyme to CFA or control. Thereafter, we assessed the antimicrobial activity of exposed airway samples using both bioluminescence and standard colony-forming unit assays. We investigated PM-AMP electrostatic interaction by attenuated total reflection Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy and measuring the zeta potential. We also studied the adsorption of AMPs on PM.


We found increased bacterial survival in CFA-exposed airway explants, ASL, and AMPs. In addition, we report that PM with a negative surface charge can adsorb cationic AMPs and form negative particle–protein complexes.


We propose that when CFA arrives at the airway, it rapidly adsorbs AMPs and creates negative complexes, thereby decreasing the functional amount of AMPs capable of killing pathogens. These results provide a novel translational insight into an early mechanism for how ambient PM increases the susceptibility of the airways to bacterial infection.


Vargas Buonfiglio, Luis G., Imali A. Mudunkotuwa, Mahmoud H. Abou Alaiwa, Oriana G. Vanegas Calderón, Jennifer A. Borcherding, Alicia K. Gerke, Joseph Zabner, Vicki H. Grassian, and Alejandro P. Comellas. "Effects of coal fly ash particulate matter on the antimicrobial activity of airway surface liquid." Environmental health perspectives 125, no. 7 (2017): 077003.