Background Aging represents a serious health and socioeconomic concern for our society. However, not all people age in the same way and air pollution has been shown to largely impact this process. We explored whether polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), excellent fossil and wood burning tracers, accelerate biological aging detected by lymphocytes DNA methylation age (DNAmAge) and telomere length (TL), early nuclear DNA (nDNA) hallmarks of non-mitotic and mitotic cellular aging, and mitochondrial DNA copy number (mtDNAcn). Methods The study population consisted of 49 male noncurrent-smoking coke-oven workers and 44 matched controls. Occupational and environmental sources of PAH exposures were evaluated by structured questionnaire and internal dose (urinary 1-pyrenol). We estimated Occup_PAHs, the product of 1-pyrenol and years of employment as coke-oven workers, and Environ_PAHs, from multiple items (diet, indoor and outdoor). Biological aging was determined by DNAmAge, via pyrosequencing, and by TL and mtDNAcn, via quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Genomic instability markers in lymphocytes as target dose [anti-benzo[a]pyrene diolepoxide (anti-BPDE)–DNA adduct], genetic instability (micronuclei), gene-specific (p53, IL6 and HIC1) and global (Alu and LINE-1 repeats) DNA methylation, and genetic polymorphisms (GSTM1) were also evaluated in the latent variable nDNA_changes. Structural equation modelling (SEM) analysis evaluated these multifaceted relationships. Results In univariate analysis, biological aging was higher in coke-oven workers than controls as detected by higher percentage of subjects with biological age older than chronological age (AgeAcc ≥ 0, p = 0.007) and TL (p = 0.038), mtDNAcn was instead similar. Genomic instability, i.e., genotoxic and epigenetic alterations (LINE-1, p53 and Alu) and latent variable nDNA_changes were higher in workers (p < 0.001). In SEM analysis, DNAmAge and TL were positively correlated with Occup_PAHs (p < 0.0001). Instead, mtDNAcn is positively correlated with the latent variable nDNA_ changes (p < 0.0001) which is in turn triggered by Occup_PAHs and Environ_PAHs. Conclusions Occupational PAHs exposure influences DNAmAge and TL, suggesting that PAHs target both nonmitotic and mitotic mechanisms and made coke-oven workers biologically older. Also, differences in mtDNAcn, which is modified through nDNA alterations, triggered by environmental and occupational PAH exposure, suggested a nuclear-mitochondrial core-axis of aging. By decreasing this risky gerontogenic exposure, biological aging and the consequent age-related diseases could be prevented. *Correspondence:
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