•    Biomass particles with diverse properties induce different biological responses.
•    Pellet PM with high metal content induces DNA damage and cell cycle alteration.
•    Elevated Zinc concentration causes cytotoxic and genotoxic effects.


Biomass combustion significantly contributes to indoor and outdoor air pollution and to the adverse health effects observed in the exposed populations. Besides, the contribution to toxicity of the particles derived from combustion of different biomass sources (pellet, wood, charcoal), as well as their biological mode of action, are still poorly understood. In the present study, we investigate the toxicological properties of PM10 particles emitted indoor from a stove fueled with different biomasses.

PM10 was sampled by gravimetric methods and particles were chemically analyzed for Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) and elemental content. Human lung A549 cells were exposed for 24 h to 1–10 μg/cm2 PM and different biological endpoints were evaluated to comparatively estimate the cytotoxic, genotoxic and pro-inflammatory effects of the different PMs.

Pellet PM decreased cell viability, inducing necrosis, while charcoal and wood ones mainly induced apoptosis. Oxidative stress-related response and cytochrome P450 enzymes activation were observed after exposure to all the biomasses tested. Furthermore, after pellet exposure, DNA lesions and cell cycle arrest were also observed. The severe genotoxic and pro-necrotic effects observed after pellet exposure were likely the consequence of the high metal content. By administering the chelating agent TPEN, the genotoxic effects were indeed rescued. The higher content in PAHs measured in wood and charcoal PMs was likely the reason of the enhanced expression of metabolizing and oxidative stress-related enzymes, like CYP1B1 and HO-1, and the consequent increase in apoptotic cell death.

These data suggest that combustion particles from different biomass sources may impact on lung cells according to different pathways, finally producing different toxicities. This is strictly related to the PM chemical composition, which reflects the quality of the combustion and the fuel in particular. Further studies are needed to clarify the role of particle dimension and the molecular mechanisms behind the harmful effects observed.