© 2016 Elsevier Ltd. Diesel combustion and solid biomass burning are the major sources of ultrafine particles (UFP) in urbanized areas. Cardiovascular and pulmonary diseases, including lung cancer, are possible outcomes of combustion particles exposure, but differences in particles properties seem to influence their biological effects.Here the physico-chemical properties and biological effects of diesel and biomass particles, produced under controlled laboratory conditions, have been characterized. Diesel UFP were sampled from a Euro 4 light duty vehicle without DPF fuelled by commercial diesel and run over a chassis dyno. Biomass UFP were collected from a modern automatic 25 kW boiler propelled by prime quality spruce pellet. Transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) images of both diesel and biomass samples showed aggregates of soot particles, but in biomass samples ash particles were also present. Chemical characterization showed that metals and PAHs total content was higher in diesel samples compared to biomass ones.Human bronchial epithelial (HBEC3) cells were exposed to particles for up to 2 weeks. Changes in the expression of genes involved in xenobiotic metabolism were observed after exposure to both UFP already after 24 h. However, only diesel particles modulated the expression of genes involved in inflammation, oxidative stress and epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT), increased the release of inflammatory mediators and caused phenotypical alterations, mostly after two weeks of exposure.These results show that diesel UFP affected cellular processes involved in lung and cardiovascular diseases and cancer. Biomass particles exerted low biological activity compared to diesel UFP. This evidence emphasizes that the study of different emission sources contribution to ambient PM toxicity may have a fundamental role in the development of more effective strategies for air quality improvement.