The prevalence in allergic diseases has increased considerably in the past decades. An important trigger of the symptoms of allergic rhinitis (hay fever) is the pollen of wind-pollinating plants. This pollen is developed by plants and is released into the air where it gets exposed to environmental influences and air pollution. We investigated the chemical changes to pollen that occur after release from the flower in a rural (Veluwe) and an urban (Amsterdam) site in the Netherlands using Fourier Transform Infrared (FTIR) spectroscopy. During the spring/summer of 2020 (during the COVID pandemic) the pollen of nine taxa (Alnus, Betula, Fagus, Fraxinus, Pinus, Plantago, Poaceae, Quercus and Salix) were collected directly from flowers and the air (using a mobile sampler). FTIR spectra were obtained for multiple individual pollen grains for each taxa. The spectra obtained from airborne pollen collected at the rural vs. urban sites did not show any statistical difference. This is possibly a result of a reduced difference in pollutant concentrations between the two sites due to the COVID-19-lockdown measures were in place. However, consistent differences in the FTIR spectra recovered from airborne vs. flower pollen were recorded for all pollen taxa. After the release from the flower the chemical composition of the pollen changed: (i) polysaccharides are converted to monosaccharides; (ii) protein concentration and/or nitration/oxidation level is altered; (iii) lipids are modified and/or reduced in concentration. These changes may alter the allergenicity of the pollen and suggest that further work on the allergenic nature of airborne pollen is required.

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Science of The Total Environment

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Staff publications

de Weger, Letty A., Verbeek, C., Markey, Emma, O’Connor, David J., & Gosling, William D. (2024). Greater difference between airborne and flower pollen chemistry, than between pollen collected across a pollution gradient in the Netherlands. Science of The Total Environment, 934(172963). doi:10.1016/j.scitotenv.2024.172963