Environmental Fe, Ti, Al, Cu, Hg, Bi, and Si nanoparticles in the atrioventricular conduction axis and the associated ultrastructural damage in young urbanites: Cardiac arrhythmias caused by anthropogenic, industrial, e-waste, and indoor nanoparticles

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Research Article

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Environmental Science and Technology


Air pollution exposure is a risk factor for arrhythmia. The atrioventricular (AV) conduction axis is key for the passage of electrical signals to ventricles. We investigated whether environmental nanoparticles (NPs) reach the AV axis and whether they are associated with ultrastructural cell damage. Here, we demonstrate the detection of the shape, size, and composition of NPs by transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and energy-dispersive X-ray spectrometry (EDX) in 10 subjects from Metropolitan Mexico City (MMC) with a mean age of 25.3 ± 5.9 and a 71-year-old subject without cardiac pathology. We found that in every case, Fe, Ti, Al, Hg, Cu, Bi, and/or Si spherical or acicular NPs with a mean size of 36 ± 17 nm were present in the AV axis in situ, freely and as conglomerates, within the mitochondria, sarcomeres, lysosomes, lipofuscin, and/or intercalated disks and gap junctions of Purkinje and transitional cells, telocytes, macrophages, endothelium, and adjacent atrial and ventricular fibers. Erythrocytes were found to transfer NPs to the endothelium. Purkinje fibers with increased lysosomal activity and totally disordered myofilaments and fragmented Z-disks exhibited NP conglomerates in association with gap junctions and intercalated disks. AV conduction axis pathology caused by environmental NPs is a plausible and modifiable risk factor for understanding common arrhythmias and reentrant tachycardia. Anthropogenic, industrial, e-waste, and indoor NPs reach pacemaker regions, thereby increasing potential mechanisms that disrupt the electrical impulse pathways of the heart. The cardiotoxic, oxidative, and abnormal electric performance effects of NPs in pacemaker locations warrant extensive research. Cardiac arrhythmias associated with nanoparticle effects could be preventable.

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