Imipramine blocks acute silicosis in a mouse model

Rupa Biswas, Kevin L. Trout, Forrest Jessop, Jack R. Harkema, Andrij Holian

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

33 Scopus citations


Background: Inhalation of crystalline silica is associated with pulmonary inflammation and silicosis. Although silicosis remains a prevalent health problem throughout the world, effective treatment choices are limited. Imipramine (IMP) is a FDA approved tricyclic antidepressant drug with lysosomotropic characteristics. The aim of this study was to evaluate the potential for IMP to reduce silicosis and block phagolysosome membrane permeabilization. Methods: C57BL/6 alveolar macrophages (AM) exposed to crystalline silica ± IMP in vitro were assessed for IL-1β release, cytotoxicity, particle uptake, lysosomal stability, and acid sphingomyelinase activity. Short term (24h) in vivo studies in mice instilled with silica (± IMP) evaluated inflammation and cytokine release, in addition to cytokine release from ex vivo cultured AM. Long term (six to ten weeks) in vivo studies in mice instilled with silica (± IMP) evaluated histopathology, lung damage, and hydroxyproline content as an indicator of collagen accumulation. Results: IMP significantly attenuated silica-induced cytotoxicity and release of mature IL-1β from AM in vitro. IMP treatment in vivo reduced silica-induced inflammation in a short-term model. Furthermore, IMP was effective in blocking silica-induced lung damage and collagen deposition in a long-term model. The mechanism by which IMP reduces inflammation was explored by assessing cellular processes such as particle uptake and acid sphingomyelinase activity. Conclusions: Taken together, IMP was anti-inflammatory against silica exposure in vitro and in vivo. The results were consistent with IMP blocking silica-induced phagolysosomal lysis, thereby preventing cell death and IL-1β release. Thus, IMP could be therapeutic for silica-induced inflammation and subsequent disease progression as well as other diseases involving phagolysosomal lysis.

Original languageEnglish
Article number36
JournalParticle and Fibre Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Sep 11 2017


  • Imipramine
  • Inflammation
  • Lysosome
  • Macrophage
  • Particles
  • Silica
  • Silicosis
  • Toxicology


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