Asbestos causes the fibrotic lung disease asbestosis, but the biologic basis for this is unknown. Lung epithelial dysfunction including increased permeability is hypothesized to contribute to lung scarring in other forms of pulmonary fibrosis. Lung epithelial permeability is increased in both animals and humans exposed to asbestos. It is not known whether the increased epithelial permeability results from direct effects of asbestos or occurs as a result of the inflammatory reaction to asbestos fibers. To address this question we used a cultured human lung epithelial model, and we measured the direct effect of asbestos on lung epithelial barrier integrity as measured by mannitol permeability. We exposed the monolayer to chryogenically ground, respirable-sized chrysotile asbestos particles. This chrysotile asbestos caused a dose- and time-dependent increase in mannitol permeability across the epithelial monolayer. Increased mannitol permeability occurred both in the presence and in the absence of serum, was not due to cytotoxicity as measured by lactate dehydrogenase release, and was not associated with altered actin cytoskeleton at the light microscopic level. Permeability to 70 kDa neutral dextran also increased after asbestos exposure; however, the absolute permeability to dextran was less than mannitol permeability. Neither latex beads nor tantalum caused any change in permeability, suggesting that our findings are not explained by nonspecific effects of particles. Increased permeability did not reverse in the continued presence of asbestos and persisted even after removing the asbestos. Finally, surface-bound iron did not appear to be necessary for this effect because neither chelating iron with deferoxamine nor iron-loading the asbestos altered the effect on mannitol permeability. These results show that asbestos has direct effects on lung epithelial permeability. Together with the recent observation that asbestos directly increases epithelial fibrinolytic activity, our results suggest a novel mechanism for asbestos-induced lung injury.
- Copyright © 1993 the American Physiological Society