Ultrafine particles in human lung macrophages

Arch Environ Health. 2001 Mar-Apr;56(2):150-6. doi: 10.1080/00039890109604067.


As knowledge about size dependency of particle toxicity continues to grow, attention has been focused on ultrafine particles (i.e., < 0.1 microm in diameter). In recent studies with rats, investigators learned that ultrafine particles likely have greater pulmonary toxicity than larger particles, and it is possible that exposure to, and accumulation of, these particles in the human lung may be associated with adverse respiratory health effects. As part of an ongoing study, the authors performed bronchoalveolar lavage in 14 healthy current nonsmokers to investigate the extent to which ultrafine particles were present in lung macrophages. In addition, 10 of the 14 subjects performed pulmonary function tests. Eleven of the 14 subjects were utility workers, and 3 were nonmaintenance employees of a university. The authors used a Zeiss CEM902 electron microscope to study macrophages isolated from bronchoalveolar lavage fluid. Morphometric quantification revealed ultrafine particles in lung macrophages of all 14 volunteers; the average number of ultrafine particles/microm3 cytoplasm per cell (UFavg) ranged from 34 to 231 (mean = 95, standard deviation = 54). Regression analysis showed that the UFavg was associated inversely with percent predicted forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1.0) (beta = -1.2 percent predicted FEV1.0/10 ultrafine particles x microm3 cytoplasm per cell [standard error = 0.45, p = .031). The demonstration of ultrafine particles in all 14 subjects, independent of occupational exposure, suggests that there is environmental exposure to ultrafine particles. The negative association between the number of ultrafine particles and ventilatory function demonstrates a need for further investigation into the pulmonary health effects of ultrafine particles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bronchoalveolar Lavage Fluid*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects
  • Environmental Pollutants / isolation & purification*
  • Humans
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Particle Size
  • Respiratory Function Tests
  • Welding*


  • Environmental Pollutants