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Toxicol Appl Pharmacol. 2001 Apr 15;172(2):119-27.

Impairment of alveolar macrophage phagocytosis by ultrafine particles.

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  • 1School of Life Sciences, Napier University, 10 Colinton Road, Edinburgh, EH10 5DT, Scotland.


We investigated whether slowed clearance after exposure to ultrafine particles was due to a failure in alveolar macrophage phagocytosis. This was achieved by measuring the ability of a macrophage cell line (J774.2 MPhi) to phagocytose 2-microg indicator latex beads following 8-h exposures to a number of test particles. Particles utilized were fine titanium dioxide (TiO2), ultrafine titanium dioxide (UTiO2), carbon black (CB), or ultrafine carbon black (UCB). Cytotoxicity of particles was measured by means of MTT activity. In a preliminary study, we assessed the effects of conditioned medium from particle-treated macrophages on the phagocytic ability of naive macrophages. Ultrafine and fine particles had no significant cytotoxic effects on J774.2 MPhi. A significant reduction in the ability of macrophages to phagocytose the indicator beads occurred after exposure to 0.39 microg/mm(2) (p < 0.001) of UCB and 0.78 microg/mm(2) (p < 0.001) of all particle types compared to the control. Furthermore, ultrafine particles were shown to significantly (p < 0.001) impair macrophage phagocytosis at a lower dose than their fine counterparts (0.39 and 0.78 microg/mm(2), respectively). At all doses, UCB resulted in a greater number (p < 0.001) of nonphagocytic macrophages compared to the other test particles. We tested whether a diffusable mediator being released from particle-exposed cells inhibited the phagocytic activity of adjacent macrophages. The conditioned medium from particle-exposed macrophages had no significant effect on the phagocytic ability of macrophages, suggesting that cell-cell contact is responsible for the pattern of failed phagocytosis (data not shown). We have demonstrated that ultrafine particles impair macrophage phagocytosis to a greater extent than fine particles compared on a mass basis. Therefore, we conclude that slowed clearance of particles, specifically the ultrafines, can in part be attributed to a particle-mediated impairment of macrophage phagocytosis.

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