Epidemiologic studies have established an association between exposures to air pollution particles and human mortality and morbidity at concentrations of particles currently found in major metropolitan areas. The adverse effects of pollution particles are most prominent in susceptible subjects, including the elderly and patients with cardiopulmonary diseases. Controlled human exposure studies have been used to confirm the causal relationship between pollution particle exposure and adverse health effects. Earlier studies enrolled mostly young healthy subjects and have largely confirmed the capability of particles to cause adverse health effects shown in epidemiological studies. In the last few years, more studies involving susceptible populations have been published. These recent studies in susceptible populations, however, have shown that the adverse responses to particles appear diminished in these susceptible subjects compared to those in healthy subjects. The present paper reviewed and compared control human exposure studies to particles and sought to explain the "unexpected" response to particle exposure in these susceptible populations and make recommendations for future studies. We found that the causes for the discrepant results are likely multifactorial. Factors such as medications, the disease itself, genetic susceptibility, subject selection bias that is intrinsic to many controlled exposure studies and nonspecificity of study endpoints may explain part of the results. Future controlled exposure studies should select endpoints that are more closely related to the pathogenesis of the disease and reflect the severity of particle-induced health effects in the specific populations under investigation. Future studies should also attempt to control for medications and genetic susceptibility. Using a different study design, such as exposing subjects to filtered air and ambient levels of particles, and assessing the improvement in biological endpoints during filtered air exposure, may allow the inclusion of higher risk patients who are likely the main contributors to the increased particle-induced health effects in epidemiological studies.
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