Copper-dependent biological effects of particulate matter produced by brake systems on lung alveolar cells

Marina Figliuzzi, Matteo Tironi, Lorena Longaretti, Alessandro Mancini, Federico Teoldi, Fabio Sangalli, Andrea Remuzzi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Road traffic is one of the main sources of particulate emissions into the environment and has an increasing, negative impact on the release of potentially dangerous materials. Vehicle brakes release a significant amount of wear particles, and knowledge regarding their possible adverse effects is limited. One of the most dangerous elements contained in brake pads is copper (Cu), known to be toxic for human health. Therefore, our aim was to study the cell toxicity of particulate matter (PM) produced by different combinations of braking discs and pads containing different amounts of Cu. We investigated whether brake-derived microparticles have toxic effects on lung cells proportionally to their Cu content. Analyte content was measured in friction materials by XRFS and in PM2.5 captured during braking tests using SEM/EDX. The biological impact of brake-derived PM2.5 was investigated on a human epithelial alveolar cell line (A549). Cell viability, oxidative stress, mitochondrial membrane potential, apoptosis, and the pro-inflammatory response of the cells, as well as gene expression, were assessed following exposure to increasing PM2.5 concentrations (1, 10, 100, 200, and 500 µg/ml). The brake debris with the lowest Cu content did not induce significant changes in biological effects on A549 cells compared to normal controls, except for ROS production and IL6 gene expression. PM2.5 containing higher Cu quantities induced cell toxicity that correlated with Cu concentration. Our data suggest that the toxicity of PM2.5 from the brake system is mainly related to Cu content, thus confirming that eliminating Cu from brake pads will be beneficial for human health in urbanized environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2965-2979
Number of pages15
JournalArchives of Toxicology
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2020


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