Asbestos induces apoptosis in human alveolar macrophages

Raymond F. Hamilton, Li Li, Rashi Iyer, Andrij Holian

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Asbestos refers to a group of fibrous minerals implicated in the development of several lung diseases, including fibrosis (asbestosis), cancer, and malignant mesothelioma. Although major health risks exist in occupationally exposed individuals, low-level exposures of asbestos may still contribute to health problems. The mechanism by which asbestos causes lung disease is not clearly understood but has been proposed to involve the alveolar macrophage (AM). We propose that asbestos induces apoptosis of AM, resulting in the development of an inflammatory state. In this study, we examined two forms of asbestos, chrysotile (CHR) and crocidolite (CRO), along with a control fiber, wollastonite (WOL), to characterize their relative cytotoxicity and ability to stimulate apoptosis in vitro. AM were cultured for 24 h with these particulates and examined for cell viability (trypan blue exclusion) and apoptosis (morphology, levels of cytosolic oligonucleosomal DNA fragments, and DNA ladder). In the absence of a decrease in cell viability, both CHR and CRO produced changes in cell morphology consistent with apoptosis. In addition, levels of cytoplasmic oligonucleosomal DNA (Cell Death Detection enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) were significantly enhanced for CHR (3-25 μg/ml) and CRO (25-75 μg/ml) in a dose-dependent manner (a process that was inhibitable by 10 μM Z-Val-Ala-Asp fluoromethyl ketone, an interleukin-converting enzyme inhibitor). In contrast, WOL (up to 400 μg/ml) produced no significant DNA fragmentation in a 24-h culture. Neither CHR nor CRO caused DNA ladder formation in 24-h cell cultures. However, in 48-h cell cultures, both CHR- and CRO-exposed cells, but not WOL, resulted in the formation of DNA ladders characteristic of apoptosis. In summary, these results suggest that, unlike nonfibrogenic particulates, low doses of asbestos fibers cause apoptosis in cultured human AM that may be an early step in the development of lung fibrosis.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)L813-L819
JournalAmerican Journal of Physiology - Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology
Issue number5 15-5
StatePublished - Nov 1996


  • chrysotile
  • crocidolite
  • interleukin-converting enzyme
  • oligonucleosomal deoxyrinonuclease fragments
  • wollastonite


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