Fiery Effects of Wildfire Smoke Inhalation

Melanie Mendez | 22-LW-001

Project Overview

Military personnel and firefighters are more likely than the general population to develop neurodegenerative diseases. Despite higher incidences of neurodegenerative disorders documented for this demographic, it is not clear how exposure to these toxicants affects the brain. In this study we examined gene expression changes after two days of exposure to burn pits and urban fire-like smoke. We found that there were gene expression changes in the brain associated with each exposure that causes clustering in a Principal Component Analysis (PCA) plot. We found that the gene expression changes in bulk RNA sequencing led to an activation of genes associated with diseases like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, dementia, among others. When examining the choroid plexus, we found localized inflammation which if unresolved could increase the risk of neurodegenerative disease. In summary, we found that short-term exposure to toxicants released by the combustion of mixed materials and plastic can lead to the activation of neurodegenerative pathways.

Mission Impact

This study examined the effects of smoke inhalation caused by the combustion of organic and inorganic material to develop novel scientific tools and capabilities to meet future national security challenges. Additionally, we created a collaboration with the Environmental Protection Agency's Center for Public Health and Environmental Assessment that will continue beyond this project. This project also leveraged Livermore's exceptional capabilities in bioinformatics and histology. This study significantly improved the fundamental understanding of how the combustion of human made products along with organic products can lead to an activation of pathways associated with neurodegenerative diseases.

Publications, Presentations, and Patents

M.E. Mendez, S.P. Wilson, B. Amiri, Y.H. Kim, S.H. Gavett, M.I. Gilmour, A. Sebastian, N.R. Hum, H.A. Enright, and G.G. Loots, "Simulated Burn Pit Smoke Effects in the Brain" (Poster Presentation, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory Post-Doctoral Symposium. Livermore, CA, May 2023). LLNL-POST-848015.

M.E. Mendez, S.P. Wilson, B. Amiri, Y. H. Kim, S.H. Gavett, M.I. Gilmour, A. Sebastian, N.R. Hum, H.A. Enright, and G.G. Loots, "Simulated Burn Pit Smoke Exposures Increase Inflammation in the Brain" (Poster Presentation, Military Health System Research Symposium. Orlando, FL, Aug 2023). LLNL-POST-848015.