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Vet Res Commun. 1996;20(4):381-99.

A morphometric and functional study of the toxicity of atmospheric ammonia in the extrathoracic airways in pigs.

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Department of Pharmacology and Toxicology, Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Liege, Belgium.


The effects of atmospheric ammonia (NH3) on the nasal and tracheal mucosa of pigs were investigated by morphometric and functional methods. Pigs were exposed to four concentrations of NH3 [5 (control), 25, 50 and 100 ppm] for 6 days in a specially designed air-pollutant exposure chamber. Samples were taken from the turbinates and the trachea, and the respiratory mucosa was examined by light and scanning electron microscopy. Dose-response curves to carbachol and isoproterenol were constructed using isolated strips of tracheal smooth muscle, with or without epithelium. In pigs exposed to ammonia, considerable mucosal injuries were observed in the turbinates but not in the trachea. The number of neutrophils in the epithelial layer and in the lamina propria, and epithelial hyperplasia were closely and significantly correlated with the concentrations of ammonia (r = 0.894, p < 0.001; r = 0.727, P < 0.001; and r = 0.818, p < 0.001, respectively). Except for the lamina propria, all these changes were significant (p < 0.05) at ammonia concentrations as low as 25 ppm. The percentage of the surface of the turbinate mucosa that was ciliated tended to decrease with increasing ammonia concentration (r = 0.439, p < 0.082). Ammonia induced smooth-muscle hyperresponsiveness to carbachol with a close linear correlation between individual values of the carbachol-induced maximal effect and the NH3 concentrations (r = 0.526, p < 0.003). While mechanical destruction of the epithelium induced an increase in Emax in the control group, no difference was observed between the intact and denuded strips from animals exposed to ammonia. The response to isoproterenol was not influenced by ammonia. It was concluded that quantitative histological analysis of the inflammatory infiltration and epithelial hyperplasia in the turbinates is a useful tool for quantifying the effects of atmospheric pollutants in pigs; a 6-day exposure to ammonia induces nasal irritation and functional disturbances of the tracheal smooth-muscle contractions at concentrations as low as 25 ppm.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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