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Journal Home Page Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology
Vol. 174, No. 1, July 1, 2001
ISSN: 0041-008X
EISSN: 1096-0333
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Biodegradability of Inhaled para-Aramid Respirable-Sized Fiber-Shaped Particulates: Mechanistic in Vivo and in Vitro Studies
pp. 78-88 (doi:10.1006/taap.2001.9177) 
D. B. Warheit M. A. Hartsky K. L. Reed T. R. Webb  

DuPont Haskell Laboratory, Newark, Delaware, 19714-0050
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  • Warheit, DB [IDEAL] 
  • Hartsky, MA [IDEAL] 
  • Reed, KL [IDEAL] 
  • Webb, TR [IDEAL] 
  • (Received December 26, 2000; accepted March 8, 2001; published electronically June 27, 2001)

    Biopersistence represents an important health-related issue in fiber toxicology. These studies were undertaken to elucidate the mechanism(s) through which inhaled p-aramid respirable-sized fiber-shaped particulates (RFP) are biodegraded in the lungs of exposed rats and hamsters. Previously, we and others have reported that, following deposition in the lung, long p-aramid RFPs are cleaved into shorter fibrous fragments. To investigate the mechanisms of RFP biodegradation, we have postulated that lung fluids coat/activate p-aramid RFP following deposition in the alveolar regions of the lung, thus predisposing the RFP to enzymatic attack and consequent shortening. This process enhances the rate of clearance of the inhaled RFP. To test this hypothesis, we have conducted both in vivo and in vitro cellular and noncellular investigations. First, p-aramid or cellulose RFP were instilled into the lungs of rats and the lungs were digested 24 h postexposure using two different digestion techniques: (1) a conventional ethanolic KOH method and (2) an enzymatic method that simulates the action of lung enzymes. Cellulose RFP were utilized as a control organic fiber-type that is known to be biopersistent. The results demonstrated that the enzymatic but not the KOH method resulted in transverse cleavage of the p-aramid RFP; the lengths of cellulose RFP recovered from rat lungs were not reduced by either method. Next, standardized preparations of p-aramid RFP or cellulose RFP were incubated with saline or lung fluids and then processed by one of two tissue digestion techniques. Mean lengths of p-aramid RFP incubated with saline and processed with KOH or the enzyme method were not found to be altered. Indeed, only the preparation of p-aramid RFP that had been incubated with bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluids and processed with the enzyme solution resulted in cleavage of p-aramid RFP. Moreover, when the BAL fluids were autoclaved to denature proteins, the length dimensions of p-aramid RFP were intermediate between saline controls and RFP incubated with normal BAL fluids and processed via the enzymatic technique. In contrast to the in vitro noncellular studies with p-aramid RFP, the combination of BAL fluid incubation and enzyme digestion method had no measurable effect on shortening of cellulose RFP, indicating that the results with p-aramid were specific to that fiber-type. In a final set of in vitro cellular studies, cultures of rat lung epithelial cells, alveolar macrophages, or co-cultures of epithelial cells and macrophages were treated with p-aramid RFP for 1 h, 1 day, or 1 week to determine whether RFP shortening occurs directly in the phagocytic cells. The lengths of fibrils were measured using scanning electron microscopy techniques. The results demonstrated that (1) no shortening occurred in the epithelial cell cultures at any time point; however, (2) in the macrophage and cocultures, cleavage of p-aramid RFP was observed at 1 day and 1 week postexposure. Our data suggest that components of lung fluids coat and catalyze the p-aramid RFP as a prerequisite for enzymatic cleavage. This process could play a significant role in facilitating the transverse cleavage or shortening of inhaled p-aramid RFP in the lungs of exposed rats and hamsters. Copyright 2001 Academic Press.

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