Chronic asbestos exposure is associated with the accumulation of mononuclear phagocytes in the lower respiratory tract. This process can be both protective and injurious, since macrophages can aid in asbestos clearance yet also modulate structural derangements of the alveolar walls. To understand why macrophages accumulate in the lungs of asbestos-exposed persons, 2 possible mechanisms were evaluated using alveolar macrophages from subjects with histories of chronic high exposure to airborne asbestos: (1) enhanced recruitment of blood monocytes to the lung, and (2) an increased rate of replication of macrophages in situ. Monoclonal antibody analysis with antibodies that detect surface antigens on the majority of circulating blood monocytes but only on a minority of mature alveolar macrophages demonstrated that an increased proportion of alveolar macrophages of asbestos workers expressed monocyte lineage antigens, suggesting the presence of 'young' newly recruited macrophages and thus enhanced recruitment. Culture of the alveolar macrophages from these subjects with [3H]thymidine followed by autoradiography demonstrated an increased proportion of alveolar macrophages synthesizing DNA, suggesting the macrophages are replicating at an increased rate in situ. These observations are consistent with the concept that both enhanced recruitment of blood monocytes and increased local proliferation of alveolar macrophages contribute to the accumulation of mononuclear phagocytes in the lung of persons with chronic asbestos exposure.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine