Biological effects of embedded depleted uranium (DU): summary of armed forces radiobiology research institute research

Sci Total Environ. 2001 Jul 2;274(1-3):115-8. doi: 10.1016/s0048-9697(01)00734-3.


The Persian Gulf War resulted in injuries of US Coalition personnel by fragments of depleted uranium (DU). Fragments not immediately threatening the health of the individuals were allowed to remain in place, based on long-standing treatment protocols designed for other kinds of metal shrapnel injuries. However, questions were soon raised as to whether this approach is appropriate for a metal with the unique radiological and toxicological properties of DU. The Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute (AFRRI) is investigating health effects of embedded fragments of DU to determine whether current surgical fragment removal policies remain appropriate for this metal. These studies employ rodents implanted with DU pellets as well as cultured human cells exposed to DU compounds. Results indicate uranium from implanted DU fragments distributed to tissues far-removed from implantation sites, including bone, kidney, muscle, and liver. Despite levels of uranium in the kidney that were nephrotoxic after acute exposure, no histological or functional kidney toxicity was observed. However, results suggest the need for further studies of long-term health impact, since DU was found to be mutagenic, and it transformed human osteoblast cells to a tumorigenic phenotype. It also altered neurophysiological parameters in rat hippocampus, crossed the placental barrier, and entered fetal tissue. This report summarizes AFRRI's depleted uranium research to date.

MeSH terms

  • Academies and Institutes
  • Animals
  • Cell Line
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Government Agencies*
  • Humans
  • Kidney / radiation effects
  • Military Medicine
  • Radiation Monitoring / methods
  • Radiobiology
  • Rats
  • Tissue Distribution
  • Toxicology / methods
  • United States
  • Uranium / pharmacokinetics*
  • Uranium / toxicity*
  • Wounds, Penetrating


  • Uranium