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Exposure to diesel exhaust induces changes in EEG in human volunteers

Björn Crüts1, Ludo van Etten1, Håkan Törnqvist2, Anders Blomberg2, Thomas Sandström2, Nicholas L Mills3 and Paul JA Borm1*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre of Expertise in Life Sciences, Zuyd University, Heerlen, The Netherlands

2 Department of Respiratory Medicine and Allergy, University of Umeå, Sweden

3 Centre for Cardiovascular Sciences, The University of Edinburgh, UK

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Particle and Fibre Toxicology 2008, 5:4  doi:10.1186/1743-8977-5-4

Published: 11 March 2008



Ambient particulate matter and nanoparticles have been shown to translocate to the brain, and potentially influence the central nervous system. No data are available whether this may lead to functional changes in the brain.


We exposed 10 human volunteers to dilute diesel exhaust (DE, 300 μg/m3) as a model for ambient PM exposure and filtered air for one hour using a double blind randomized crossover design. Brain activity was monitored during and for one hour following each exposure using quantitative electroencephalography (QEEG) at 8 different sites on the scalp. The frequency spectrum of the EEG signals was used to calculate the median power frequency (MPF) and specific frequency bands of the QEEG.


Our data demonstrate a significant increase in MPF in response to DE in the frontal cortex within 30 min into exposure. The increase in MPF is primarily caused by an increase in fast wave activity (β2) and continues to rise during the 1 hour post-exposure interval.


This study is the first to show a functional effect of DE exposure in the human brain, indicating a general cortical stress response. Further studies are required to determine whether this effect is mediated by the nanoparticles in DE and to define the precise pathways involved.