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Mutagenesis. 2010 Mar;25(2):163-9. doi: 10.1093/mutage/gep057. Epub 2009 Nov 25.

Increased micronucleus frequencies in surrogate and target cells from workers exposed to crystalline silica-containing dust.

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Toxicology Department, Pharmacy Faculty, Gazi University, Ankara, Turkey.


Mining, crushing, grinding, sandblasting and construction are high-risk activities with regard to crystalline silica exposure, especially in developing countries. Respirable crystalline silica (quartz and cristobalite) inhaled from occupational sources has been reclassified as a human carcinogen in 1997 by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. However, the biological activity of crystalline silica has been found to be variable among different industries, and this has formed the basis for further in vivo/in vitro mechanistic research and epidemiologic studies. This study was conducted for genotoxicity evaluation in a population of workers (e.g. glass industry workers, sandblasters, and stone grinders) mainly exposed to crystalline silica in four different workplaces in Turkey. The micronucleus (MN) assay was applied both in peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) as a surrogate tissue and in nasal epithelial cells (NEC) as a target tissue of the respiratory tract. Our study revealed significantly higher MN frequencies in the workers (n = 50) versus the control group (n = 29) (P < 0.001) and indicated a significant effect of occupational exposure on MN induction in both of the tissues. For the NEC target tissue, the difference in MN frequencies between the workers and control group was 3-fold, whereas in peripheral tissue, it was 2-fold. Respirable dust and crystalline silica levels exceeding limit values and mineralogical/elemental dust composition of the dust of at least 70% SiO(2) were used as markers of crystalline silica exposure in each of the workplaces. Moreover, 24% of the current workers were found to have early radiographical changes (profusion category of 1). In conclusion, although the PBL are not primary target cells for respiratory particulate toxicants, an evident increase in MN frequencies in this surrogate tissue was observed, alongside with a significant increase in NEC and may be an indicator of the accumulated genetic damage associated with crystalline silica exposure.

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