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Inhal Toxicol. 2002 Jul;14(7):765-71.

Rapid communication: effect of inhaled chromium on pulmonary A1AT.

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Department of Environmental Medicine, New York University School of Medicine, 57 Old Forge Road, Tuxedo, NY 10987, USA.


A major health hazard to coal miners is development of emphysema following long-term exposure to coal dust. One mechanism underlying development of emphysema is the oxidation of critical methionine (Met) residues in antiproteolytic factor, alpha1-antitrypsin (A1AT) resulting in a protease-antiprotease imbalance in the lung. Several studies have documented an association between the incidence and severity of emphysema among miners and their exposure to crystalline silica (i.e., SiO(2)). However, what remains unclear is the role of other co-inhaled nonemphysematogenic nonoxidant inorganic constituent in disease pathogenesis. We hypothesize that in miners, inhaled trivalent chromium (Cr(3+), the only form of Cr in coal) may potentially affect lung A1AT activity in situ via Cr complexing with Met residues, and thereby exacerbate any SiO(2)-induced imbalance. To ascertain if Cr(3+) could, in fact, affect A1AT activity, in vitro studies were done to assess elastase inhibitory activity following A1AT incubation with soluble Cr(3+). In addition, to determine if Cr(3+) found in the lungs as detoxification products of inhaled hexavalent Cr (Cr(6+)) could affect A1AT in situ, lavages from the lungs of chromate-exposed rats were also analyzed for elastase inhibitory activity The in vitro results indicate that Cr(3+) ions clearly inhibited A1AT function, with an IC50 of 1.1 mM being estimated under the experimental conditions used. The in vivo results indicate that long-term inhalation (12 wk or longer) of chromate-bearing atmospheres also gave rise to significant (i.e., 50-70%) inhibition of the antielastase activity of A1AT. Together, these results clearly suggest that the Cr(3+) present in coal dusts could potentially act to inhibit A1AT activity in the lungs of miners and thereby promote the emphysematogenicity of SiO(2) or of other emphysematogens present as coconstituents in these dusts.

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