Carbon loading of alveolar macrophages in adults and children exposed to biomass smoke particles

Sci Total Environ. 2005 Jun 1;345(1-3):23-30. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2004.10.016. Epub 2004 Dec 21.


Exposure to carbonaceous particles from biomass burning is associated with increased respiratory morbidity in both women and children in the developing world. However, the amount of carbon reaching lower airway cells has not been determined in these populations. Alveolar macrophages (AM) remove inhaled particulate matter (PM), and are implicated in the pathogenesis of PM-induced lung disease. In this study, we aimed to compare AM carbon loading in women and children exposed to biomass PM in Gondar, Ethiopia, with individuals exposed to fossil-fuel PM in the developed world (Leicester, UK). To achieve these aims, we sampled AM from Ethiopian mothers and children, and from UK adults and children using induced sputum (IS). AM were imaged under light microscopy, and the total two-dimensional surface area of carbon within each AM determined by image analysis. AM containing carbon were detected in all subjects. The total surface area of carbon per AM was higher in Ethiopian women (n=10) compared with UK adults (n=10, median 9.19 vs. 0.71 microm2/AM, p=0.0002). Similarly, the total surface area of carbon per AM was higher in Ethiopian children (n=10) compared with UK children (n=10, 3.32 vs. 0.44 microm2/AM, p=0.0002). However, loading in Ethiopian children was lower than paired maternal levels (3.32 vs. 9.19 microm2/AM, p=0.011). We conclude that analysis of AM obtained by induced sputum is a practical way of quantifying natural exposure of the lower airway to carbonaceous particles from the burning of biomass fuels.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Air Pollutants / pharmacokinetics
  • Biomass*
  • Carbon / analysis*
  • Carbon / pharmacokinetics
  • Child
  • England
  • Ethiopia
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / chemistry*
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / metabolism
  • Particle Size
  • Smoke / analysis*
  • Sputum / cytology


  • Air Pollutants
  • Smoke
  • Carbon