Silica binding and toxicity in alveolar macrophages

Free Radic Biol Med. 2008 Apr 1;44(7):1246-58. doi: 10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2007.12.027. Epub 2007 Dec 27.


Inhalation of the crystalline form of silica is associated with a variety of pathologies, from acute lung inflammation to silicosis, in addition to autoimmune disorders and cancer. Basic science investigators looking at the mechanisms involved with the earliest initiators of disease are focused on how the alveolar macrophage interacts with the inhaled silica particle and the consequences of silica-induced toxicity on the cellular level. Based on experimental results, several rationales have been developed for exactly how crystalline silica particles are toxic to the macrophage cell that is functionally responsible for clearance of the foreign particle. For example, silica is capable of producing reactive oxygen species (ROS) either directly (on the particle surface) or indirectly (produced by the cell as a response to silica), triggering cell-signaling pathways initiating cytokine release and apoptosis. With murine macrophages, reactive nitrogen species are produced in the initial respiratory burst in addition to ROS. An alternative explanation for silica toxicity includes lysosomal permeability, by which silica disrupts the normal internalization process leading to cytokine release and cell death. Still other research has focused on the cell surface receptors (collectively known as scavenger receptors) involved in silica binding and internalization. The silica-induced cytokine release and apoptosis are described as the function of receptor-mediated signaling rather than free radical damage. Current research ideas on silica toxicity and binding in the alveolar macrophage are reviewed and discussed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Apoptosis
  • Free Radicals
  • Humans
  • Lung / metabolism*
  • Lysosomes / metabolism
  • Macrophages / cytology
  • Macrophages / metabolism
  • Macrophages, Alveolar / cytology*
  • Mice
  • Models, Biological
  • Protein Binding
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species
  • Signal Transduction
  • Silicon Dioxide / chemistry*
  • Silicon Dioxide / toxicity*
  • Surface-Active Agents / metabolism*


  • Free Radicals
  • Reactive Nitrogen Species
  • Surface-Active Agents
  • Silicon Dioxide