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Chem Res Toxicol. 2012 Apr 16;25(4):884-94. doi: 10.1021/tx2005019. Epub 2012 Apr 5.

Surface reactivity and cell responses to chrysotile asbestos nanofibers.

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  • 1"G. Scansetti" Interdepartmental Center for Studies on Asbestos and other Toxic Particulates, Universit√† di Torino, Torino, Italy.


High aspect-ratio nanomaterials (HARNs) have recently attracted great attention from nanotoxicologists because of their similarity to asbestos. However, the actual risk associated with the exposure to nanosized asbestos, which escapes most regulations worldwide, is still unknown. Nanometric fibers of chrysotile asbestos have been prepared from two natural sources to investigate whether nanosize may modulate asbestos toxicity and gain insight on the hazard posed by naturally occurring asbestos, which may be defined as HARNs because of their dimensions. Power ultrasound was used to obtain nanofibers from two different chrysotile specimens, one from the dismissed asbestos mine in Balangero (Italian Western Alps) and the other from a serpentine outcrop in the Italian Central Alps. Electron microscopy, X-ray diffraction, and fluorescence spectroscopy revealed that the procedure does not affect mineralogical and chemical composition. Surface reactions related to oxidative stress, free radical generation, bioavailability of iron, and antioxidant depletion, revealed a consistent reduction in reactivity upon reduction in size. When tested on A549 human epithelial cells, the pristine but not the nanosized fibers proved cytotoxic (LDH release), induced NO production, and caused lipid peroxidation. However, nanofibers still induced some toxicity relevant oxidative stress activity (ROS production) in a dose-dependent fashion. The reduction in length and a lack of poorly coordinated bioavailable iron in nanochrysotile may explain this behavior. The present study provides a one-step procedure for the preparation of a homogeneous batch of natural asbestos nanofibers and shows how a well-known toxic material might not necessarily become more toxic than its micrometric counterpart when reduced to the nanoscale.

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