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Part Fibre Toxicol. 2011 Feb 7;8(1):7. doi: 10.1186/1743-8977-8-7.

Synchrotron soft X-ray imaging and fluorescence microscopy reveal novel features of asbestos body morphology and composition in human lung tissues.

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Sincrotrone Trieste S.C.p.a., Area Science Park, Basovizza, Trieste, Italy.



Occupational or environmental exposure to asbestos fibres is associated with pleural and parenchymal lung diseases. A histopathologic hallmark of exposure to asbestos is the presence in lung parenchyma of the so-called asbestos bodies. They are the final product of biomineralization processes resulting in deposition of endogenous iron and organic matter (mainly proteins) around the inhaled asbestos fibres. For shedding light on the formation mechanisms of asbestos bodies it is of fundamental importance to characterize at the same length scales not only their structural morphology and chemical composition but also to correlate them to the possible alterations in the local composition of the surrounding tissues. Here we report the first correlative morphological and chemical characterization of untreated paraffinated histological lung tissue samples with asbestos bodies by means of soft X-ray imaging and X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) microscopy, which reveals new features in the elemental lateral distribution.


The X-ray absorption and phase contrast images and the simultaneously monitored XRF maps of tissue samples have revealed the location, distribution and elemental composition of asbestos bodies and associated nanometric structures. The observed specific morphology and differences in the local Si, Fe, O and Mg content provide distinct fingerprints characteristic for the core asbestos fibre and the ferruginous body. The highest Si content is found in the asbestos fibre, while the shell and ferruginous bodies are characterized by strongly increased content of Mg, Fe and O compared to the adjacent tissue. The XRF and SEM-EDX analyses of the extracted asbestos bodies confirmed an enhanced Mg deposition in the organic asbestos coating.


The present report demonstrates the potential of the advanced synchrotron-based X-ray imaging and microspectroscopy techniques for studying the response of the lung tissue to the presence of asbestos fibres. The new results obtained by simultaneous structural and chemical analysis of tissue specimen have provided clear evidence that Mg, in addition to Fe, is also involved in the formation mechanisms of asbestos bodies. This is the first important step to further thorough investigations that will shed light on the physiopathological role of Mg in tissue response to the asbestos toxicity.

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