Exposure to air pollution has been identified as a possible environmental contributor to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) risk. As the number of people with AD worldwide continues to rise, it becomes vital to understand the nature of this potential gene-environment interaction. This study assessed the effects of short-term exposures to concentrated ambient ultrafine particulates (UFP, <100 nm) on measurements of amyloid-β, tau, and microglial morphology.
Two cohorts of aged (12.5-14 months) 3xTgAD and NTg mice were exposed to concentrated ambient UFP or filtered air for 2 weeks (4-h/day, 4 days/week). Bronchoalveolar lavage fluid and brain tissue were collected twenty-four hours following the last exposure to evaluate lung inflammation, tau pathology, amyloid-β pathology, and glial cell morphology.
No exposure- or genotype-related changes were found with any of the measures of lung inflammation or in the hippocampal staining density of astrocyte marker glial fibrillary acidic protein. The microglia marker, ionized calcium binding adaptor molecule 1, and amyloid-β marker, 6E10, exhibited significant genotype by exposure interactions such that levels were lower in the UFP-exposed as compared to filtered air-exposed 3xTgAD mice. When microglia morphology was assessed by Sholl analysis, microglia from both NTg mouse groups were ramified. The 3xTgAD air-exposed mice had the most ameboid microglia, while the 3xTgAD UFP-exposed mice had microglia that were comparatively more ramified. The 3xTgAD air-exposed mice had more plaques per region of interest as measured by Congo red staining as well as more plaque-associated microglia than the 3xTgAD UFP-exposed mice. The number of non-plaque-associated microglia was not affected by genotype or exposure. Levels of soluble and insoluble human amyloid-β protein were measured in both 3xTgAD groups and no exposure effect was found. In contrast, UFP-exposure led to significant elevations in phosphorylated tau in 3xTgAD mice as compared to those that were exposed to air, as measured by pT205 staining.
Exposure to environmentally relevant levels of ultrafine particulates led to changes in tau phosphorylation and microglial morphology in the absence of overt lung inflammation. Such changes highlight the need to develop greater mechanistic understanding of the link between air pollution exposure and Alzheimer’s disease.

Copyright © 2021. Published by Elsevier B.V.