Molecular epidemiology

Projects at the Unit of Environmental Epidemiology, Institute of Environmental Medicine (IMM)

Biological mechanisms behind health effects of air pollution exposure from childhood to adulthood

Air pollution has been recognized as a serious public health issue worldwide and increasingly associated with adverse health outcomes, including airway disease. In this project we aim to elucidate biological mechanisms behind the negative health effects of air pollution exposure in children and young adults, using an integrative –omics approach. One goal of this project is to investigate molecular signatures in young children induced by prenatal and early postnatal air pollution exposure, including prenatal occupational air pollution exposure. Specifically, we will study changes in DNA methylation, gene expression, and blood protein levels of relevance for airway disease, during the first 2 years of life. Another goal is to assess the impact of air pollution exposure during different periods of life on the trajectories of DNA methylation, gene expression, protein levels throughout childhood up to young adulthood, including evaluation of their etiological relevance for disease development.

This research will utilize several birth cohorts, including BAMSE, as well as EMIL, ALADDIN (…), and Born-into-Life (…). Availability of genome-wide genetic, DNA methylation, transcriptomic and proteomic data in the different materials allows large-scale studies of biomarkers and interactions with air pollution exposure in the context of respiratory disorders. The assessment of individual air pollution exposure is done through dispersion models to estimate outdoor levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particles with an aerodynamic diameter of <10 μm (PM10), <2.5 μm (PM2.5), as well as black carbon from different sources over time. In addition, occupational exposure to particles from various sources of mothers during pregnancy, as well as study subjects´ own exposure (BAMSE 24 yrs) will be assessed from a job-exposure matrix. This project is expected to contribute to the limited existing knowledge on molecular changes following exposure to air pollution during different age periods, their relevance for respiratory health, as well as to what extent such effects develop already during early childhood, including identifying susceptible groups, which in turn may have significant implications for environmental policies.


  • Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare (FORTE)
  • The Institute of Environmental Medicine, Karolinska Institutet

Contact person

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Olena Gruzieva

Principal Researcher

Selected publications

Gruzieva O, et al. Prenatal Particulate Air Pollution and DNA Methylation in Newborns: An Epigenome-Wide Meta-Analysis. Environ Health Perspect. 2019;127(5):57012.

Gruzieva O, et al. Exposure to Traffic-Related Air Pollution and Serum Inflammatory Cytokines in Children. Environ Health Perspect. 2017;125(6):067007.

Gref A, et al. Genome-Wide Interaction Analysis of Air Pollution Exposure and Childhood Asthma with Functional Follow-up. Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2017 May 15;195(10):1373-1383.

Gruzieva O, et al. Epigenome-Wide Meta-Analysis of Methylation in Children Related to Prenatal NO2 Air Pollution Exposure. Environ Health Perspect. 2017 Jan;125(1):104-110

Content reviewer:
Anna Persson