BackgroundDiesel exhaust is carcinogenic and exposure to diesel particles cause health effects. We investigated the toxicity of diesel exhaust particles designed to have varying physicochemical properties in order to attribute health effects to specific particle characteristics. Particles from three fuel types were compared at 13% engine intake O2 concentration: MK1 ultra low sulfur diesel (DEP13) and the two renewable diesel fuels hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO13) and rapeseed methyl ester (RME13). Additionally, diesel particles from MK1 ultra low sulfur diesel were generated at 9.7% (DEP9.7) and 17% (DEP17) intake O2 concentration. We evaluated physicochemical properties and histopathological, inflammatory and genotoxic responses on day 1, 28, and 90 after single intratracheal instillation in mice compared to reference diesel particles and carbon black.ResultsModerate variations were seen in physical properties for the five particles: primary particle diameter: 15–22 nm, specific surface area: 152–222 m2/g, and count median mobility diameter: 55–103 nm. Larger differences were found in chemical composition: organic carbon/total carbon ratio (0.12–0.60), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon content (1–27 μg/mg) and acid-extractable metal content (0.9–16 μg/mg). Intratracheal exposure to all five particles induced similar toxicological responses, with different potency. Lung particle retention was observed in DEP13 and HVO13 exposed mice on day 28 post-exposure, with less retention for the other fuel types. RME exposure induced limited response whereas the remaining particles induced dose-dependent inflammation and acute phase response on day 1. DEP13 induced acute phase response on day 28 and inflammation on day 90. DNA strand break levels were not increased as compared to vehicle, but were increased in lung and liver compared to blank filter extraction control. Neutrophil influx on day 1 correlated best with estimated deposited surface area, but also with elemental carbon, organic carbon and PAHs. DNA strand break levels in lung on day 28 and in liver on day 90 correlated with acellular particle-induced ROS.ConclusionsWe studied diesel exhaust particles designed to differ in physicochemical properties. Our study highlights specific surface area, elemental carbon content, PAHs and ROS-generating potential as physicochemical predictors of diesel particle toxicity.