The asbestos fibre burden in human lungs: new insights into the chrysotile debate

European Respiratory Journal 2017 [Link]

Feder IS, Tischoff I, Theile A, Schmitz I, Merget R, Tannapfel A


The traceability of asbestos fibres in human lungs is a matter of discussion especially for chrysotile. This issue is of high significance for differential diagnosis, risk assessment and occupational compensation. At present no intra-individual longitudinal information is available. This study addresses the question whether the asbestos fibre burden in human lungs decreases with time after exposure cessation.The database of the German Mesothelioma Register was screened for patients with asbestos body counts of at least 500 fibres per gram of wet lung, which had been analysed twice from different tissue excisions at minimum intervals of 4 years.Twelve datasets with individual longitudinal information were discovered with a median interval of about 8 years (range 4-21 years). Both examinations were performed after exposure cessation (median: surgery, 9.5 years; autopsy, 22 years). Pulmonary asbestos fibre burden was stable between both examinations (median 1623/4269 asbestos bodies per gram wet lung). Electron microscopy demonstrated a preponderance of chrysotile (median 80%).This study is the first to present longitudinal intra-individual data about the asbestos fibre burden in living human lungs. The high biopersistence of amphiboles, but also of chrysotile, offers mechanistic explanations for fibre toxicity, especially the long latency period of asbestos-related diseases.