Background: Prior studies have demonstrated a rapid and progressive acute phase response to bolus aspiration of multi-walled carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs). In this study we sought to test the hypothesis that inhalation exposure to MWCNT produces a fibrotic response and that the response is chronically persistent. To address the hypothesis that inhaled MWCNTs cause persistent morphologic changes, male C57BL/6 J mice were exposed in a whole-body inhalation system to a MWCNT aerosol and the fibrotic response in the alveolar region examined at up to 336 days after termination of exposure. Methods: Inhalation exposure was to a 5 mg/m3 MWCNT aerosol for 5 hours/day for 12 days (4 times/week for 3 weeks). At the end of inhalation exposures, lungs were either lavaged for analysis of bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) or preserved by vascular perfusion of fixative while inflated with air at 1, 14, 84, 168 and 336 days post inhalation exposure. Separate, clean-air control groups were also studied. Light microscopy, enhanced darkfield microscopy and field emission electron microscopy (FESEM) of tissue sections were used to analyze the distribution of lung burden following inhalation exposure. Morphometric measurements of Sirius Red staining for fibrillar collagen were used to assess the connective tissue response. Serial section analysis of enhanced darkfield microscope images was used to examine the redistribution of MWCNT fibers within the lungs during the post-exposure period. Results: At day 1 post-exposure 84 +/- 3 and 16 +/- 2 percent of the lung burden (Mean +/- S.E., N = 5) were in the alveolar and airway regions, respectively. Initial distribution within the alveolar region was 56 +/- 5, 7 +/- 4 and 20 +/- 3 percent of lung burden in alveolar macrophages, alveolar airspaces and alveolar tissue, respectively. Clearance reduced the alveolar macrophage burden of MWCNTs by 35 percent between 1 and 168 days post-exposure, while the content of MWCNTs in the alveolar tissue increased by 63 percent. Large MWCNT structures containing greater than 4 fibers were 53.6 percent of the initial lung burden and accounted for the majority of the decline with clearance, while lung burden of singlet MWCNT was essentially unchanged. The mean linear intercept of alveolar airspace, a measure of the expansion of the lungs, was not significantly different between groups. Pulmonary inflammation and damage, measured as the number of polymorphnuclear leukocytes (PMNs) or lactate dehydrogenase activity (LDH) and albumin in BAL, increased rapidly (1 day post) after inhalation of MWCNTs and declined slowly with time post-exposure. The fibrillar collagen in the alveolar region of MWCNT-exposed mice demonstrated a progressive increase in thickness over time (0.17 +/- 0.02, 0.22 +/- 0.02, 0.26 +/- 0.03, 0.25 +/- 0.02 and 0.29 +/- 0.01 microns for 1, 14, 84, 168 and 336 days post-exposure) and was significantly different from clean-air controls (0.16 +/- 0.02) at 84 and (0.15 +/- 0.02) at 336 days post-exposure. Conclusions: Despite the relatively low fraction of the lung burden being delivered to the alveolar tissue, the average thickness of connective tissue in the alveolar region increased by 70% in the 336 days after inhalation exposure. These results demonstrate that inhaled MWCNTs deposit and are retained within the alveolar tissue where they produce a progressive and persistent fibrotic response up to 336 days post-exposure.
Nanotechnology; Fiber-deposition; Inhalation-studies; Dose-response; Chronic-inflammation; Morphology; Laboratory-animals; Laboratory-testing; Exposure-assessment; Exposure-levels; Aerosols; Alveolar-cells; Lung-cells; Microscopic-analysis; Microscopy; Tissue-culture; Lung-burden; Connective-tissue; Leukocytes; Pulmonary-clearance; Collagen-fibrils; Lung-fibrosis; Toxic-effects; Hazardous-materials
Robert R Mercer, Health Effects Laboratory Division, NIOSH, MS 2015, 1095 Willowdale Drive, Morgantown, WV 26505, USA