Introduction and objective:
Traffic pollution has been recognized as directly worsening respiratory symptoms of allergic subjects, although whether urban air pollutants can also directly increase the allergenic potential of pollen has not yet been definitely proven. Therefore, the hypothesis that intra-urban air NO2 variation influences allergens expression in Cupressus sempervirens (Cs) L. pollen was tested.

Material and methods:
Mature microsporophylls were cut from Cs trees of similar age and height (14–17 m) present in three different sites of Florence (Italy) and processed in the laboratory. Cs pollen allergens amount was determined by a semi-quantitative analysis of electrophoretically separated pollen extracts fractions. NO2 air concentrations were recorded by air monitoring stations located at a distance not exceeding 50 m from each pollen collection site, and the relative annual mean values were acquired by a publicly available database (Tuscan Regional Agency for Environment Protection).

Expression of three major Cs pollen allergens was non-linearly correlated with mean annual NO2 concentrations. Expression peak of all major allergens considered was reached at NO2 air concentration (67μg/m3), far below the value at risk for direct effect on the respiratory health (European Union Directive 2008/50/EC).

The findings suggest that intra-urban NO2 variations do affect the expression of Cs pollen major allergens, and an apparent low risk NO2 concentration should be regarded as indirectly harmful for increasing the allergenic potential of pollen.

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