The effect of dust storm particles on single human lung cancer cells

Karin Ardon-Dryer, Caroline Mock, Jose Reyes, Galit Lahav

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Exposure to dust particles during dust storms can lead to respiratory problems, diseases, and even death. The effect of dust particles at the cellular level is poorly understood. In this study, we investigated the impact that dust storm particles (Montmorillonite) have on human lung epithelial cells (A549) at the single cell level. Using live-cell imaging, we continuously followed individual cells after exposure to a wide range of concentrations of dust particles. We monitored the growth trajectory of each cell including number and timing of divisions, interaction with the dust particles, as well as time and mechanism of cell death. We found that individual cells show different cellular fates (survival or death) even in response to the same dust concentration. Cells that died interacted with dust particles for longer times, and engulfed more dust particles, compared with surviving cells. While higher dust concentrations reduced viability in a dose-dependent manner, the effect on cell death was non-monotonic, with intermediate dust concentration leading to a larger fraction of dying cells compared to lower and higher concentrations. This non-monotonic relationship was explained by our findings that high dust concentrations inhibit cell proliferation. Using cellular morphological features, supported by immunoblots and proinflammatory cytokines, we determined that apoptosis is the dominant death mechanism at low dust concentrations, while higher dust concentrations activate necrosis. Similar single cell approaches can serve as a baseline for evaluating other aerosol types that will improve our understanding of the health-related consequences of exposure to dust storms.

Original languageEnglish
Article number108891
JournalEnvironmental Research
StatePublished - Feb 2020


  • Cell death
  • Cell division
  • Dust storm particles
  • Engulfing
  • Single cell analysis


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