Background: In many patients with sarcoidosis, the granulomas contain inclusion bodies within giant cells. Many giant cells contain crystalline oxalate that chemically coordinates iron on the surface of the crystal. If this iron is incompletely coordinated and capable of redox cycling, then oxalate might contribute to granuloma formation in the lung.
Methods: Using human tissues, isolated alveolar macrophages and respiratory epithelial cells, we measured the ability of calcium oxalate to sequester iron, stimulate cytokine release and cause granuloma formation. We then studied the effects of in vivo oxalate instillation on pulmonary granuloma formation over 3 to 6 months in rats.
Results: Calcium oxalate present in human sarcoid granulomas sequesters significant amounts of iron and ferritin. In alveolar macrophage cultures, oxalate accumulates iron and stimulates ferritin production and giant cell formation. In cultured respiratory epithelial cells, calcium oxalate increases the release of two interleukins (IL), IL-8 and IL-6, involved in granuloma formation by 8 to 10 fold within 24 hours. Intratracheal instillation of calcium oxalate crystals into the lungs of rats is associated with pulmonary iron and ferritin accumulation and organic carbonyl formation consistent with sustained oxidative stress. These exposures were accompanied by influx of alveolar macrophages, giant cell formation, and a granulomatous response in the lung.
Conclusions: These results support an association between calcium oxalate deposition in the lung, iron mediated oxidative stress and formation of some of the granulomas of sarcoidosis.