The cytotoxic effect of quartz on lung cells has been well documented by in vitro and animal studies, but the pertinence of these findings to humans has not yet been documented. We measured lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) activities in the lung lavage of 24 long-term workers in the Québec granite industry and 25 control subjects. We found significant increases in LDH activities in the workers’ lung lavage, even in the absence of established silicosis (9 subjects). We looked at a similar observation in the sheep model of early silicosis, measured quartz content of lung lavage, and found significant correlation with LDH levels (R=0.64, p<0.001). All of the quartz particles in human and sheep lung lavage were in the alveolar macrophages. To test further the relationship of macrophage damage (cytotoxicity of quartz) we measured the release of LDH by sheep alveolar macrophage in 24 h cell culture under control conditions, exposure to inert dust, titanium, minusil-5 quartz, or aluminum-treated quartz. The LDH release was at control levels during titanium exposure and showed a significantly dose-related increase during quartz exposure. The latter cytotoxic effect was largely attenuated by aluminum treatment of quartz. These in vitro data agreed with previous reports. This study presents evidence of a cytotoxic effect of quartz inhalation in humans. The effect is related to the intensity of quartz retention in the lung macrophages; it is not a nonspecific dust exposure effect and can be attenuated by surface modification of the quartz.
Key wordsQuartz cytotoxicity Lactate dehydrogenase Lung lavage Silicosis
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