Translocation pathways for inhaled asbestos fibers

Environmental Health. 2008 Jan 24;7(1):4 [Epub ahead of print] [Link]

Miserocchi GA, Sancini GA, Mantegazza F, Chiappino G.


We discuss the translocation of inhaled asbestos fibers based on pulmonary and pleuro-pulmonary interstitial fluid dynamics. Fibers can pass the alveolar barrier and reach the lung interstitium via the paracellular route down a mass water flow due to combined osmotic (active Na+ absorption) and hydraulic (interstitial pressure is subatmospheric) pressure gradient. Fibers can be dragged from the lung interstitium by pulmonary lymph flow (primary translocation) wherefrom they can reach the blood stream and subsequently distribute to the whole body (secondary translocation). Primary translocation across the visceral pleura and towards pulmonary capillaries may also occur if the asbestos-induced lung inflammation increases pulmonary interstitial pressure so as to reverse the trans-mesothelial and trans-endothelial pressure gradients. Secondary translocation to the pleural space may occur via the physiological route of pleural fluid formation across the parietal pleura; fibers accumulation in parietal pleura stomata (black spots) reflects the role of parietal lymphatics in draining pleural fluid. Asbestos fibers are found in all organs of subjects either occupationally exposed or not exposed to asbestos. Fibers concentration correlates with specific conditions of interstitial fluid dynamics, in line with the notion that in all organs microvascular filtration occurs from capillaries to the extravascular spaces. Concentration is high in the kidney (reflecting high perfusion pressure and flow) and in the liver (reflecting high microvascular permeability) while it is relatively low in the brain (due to low permeability of blood-brain barrier). Ultrafine fibers (length < 5 microns, diameter < 0.25 microns) can travel larger distances due to low steric hindrance (in mesothelioma about 90% of fibers are ultrafine). Fibers translocation is a slow process developing over decades of life: it is aided by high biopersistence, by inflammation-induced increase in permeability, by low steric hindrance and by fibers motion pattern at low Reynolds numbers; it is hindered by fibrosis that increases interstitial flow resistances.