Acute pulmonary effects of ultrafine particles in rats and mice.

G. Oberdörster, J. N. Finkelstein, C. Johnston, R. Gelein, C. Cox, R. Baggs, A. C. Elder

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203 Scopus citations


Ambient fine particles consist of ultrafine particles (< 100 nm) and accumulation-mode particles (approximately 100 to 1,000 nm). Our hypothesis that ultrafine particles can have adverse effects in humans is based on results of our earlier studies with particles of both sizes and on the finding that urban ultrafine particles can reach mass concentrations of 40 to 50 micrograms/m3, equivalent to number concentrations of 3 to 4 x 10(5) particles/cm3. The objectives of the exploratory studies reported here were to (1) evaluate pulmonary effects induced in rats and mice by ultrafine particles of known high toxicity (although not occurring in the ambient atmosphere) in order to obtain information on principles of ultrafine particle toxicology; (2) characterize the generation and coagulation behavior of ultrafine particles that are relevant for urban air; (3) study the influence of animals' age and disease status; and (4) evaluate copollutants as modifying factors. We used ultrafine Teflon (polytetrafluoroethylene [PTFE]*) fumes (count median diameter [CMD] approximately 18 nm) generated by heating Teflon in a tube furnace to 486 degrees C to evaluate principles of ultrafine particle toxicity that might be helpful in understanding potential effects of ambient ultrafine particles. Teflon fumes at ultrafine particle concentrations of approximately 50 micrograms/m3 are extremely toxic to rats when inhaled for only 15 minutes. We found that neither the ultrafine Teflon particles alone when generated in argon nor the Teflon fume gas-phase constituents when generated in air were toxic after 25 minutes of exposure. Only the combination of both phases when generated in air caused high toxicity, suggesting the existence of either radicals on the particle surface or a carrier mechanism of the ultrafine particles for adsorbed gas-phase compounds. We also found rapid translocation of the ultrafine Teflon particles across the epithelium after their deposition, which appears to be an important difference from the behavior of larger particles. Furthermore, the pulmonary toxicity of the ultrafine Teflon fumes could be prevented by adapting the animals with short 5-minute exposures on 3 days prior to a 15-minute exposure. This shows the importance of preexposure history in susceptibility to acute effects of ultrafine particles. Aging of the fresh Teflon fumes for 3.5 minutes led to a predicted coagulation resulting in particles greater than 100 nm that no longer caused toxicity in exposed animals. This result is consistent with greater toxicity of ultrafine particles compared with accumulation-mode particles. When establishing dose-response relationships for intratracheally instilled titanium dioxide (TiO2) particles of the size of the urban ultrafine particles (20 nm) and of the urban accumulation-mode particles (250 nm), we observed significantly greater pulmonary inflammatory response to ultrafine TiO2 in rats and mice. The greater toxicity of the ultrafine TiO2 particles correlated well with their greater surface area per mass. Ultrafine particles of carbon, platinum, iron, iron oxide, vanadium, and vanadium oxide were generated by electric spark discharge and characterized to obtain particles of environmental relevance for study. The CMD of the ultrafine carbon particles was approximately 26 nm, and that of the metal particles was 15 to 20 nm, with geometric standard deviations (GSDs) of 1.4 to 1.7. For ultrafine carbon particles, approximately 100 micrograms/m3 is equivalent to 12 x 10(6) particles/cm3. Homogeneous coagulation of these ultrafine particles in an animal exposure chamber occurred rapidly at 1 x 10(7) particles/cm3, so that particles quickly grew to sizes greater than 100 nm. Thus, controlled aging of ultrafine carbon particles allowed the generation of accumulation-mode carbon particles (due to coagulation growth) for use in comparative toxicity studies. We also developed a technique to generate ultrafine particles consisting of the stable isotope 13C by using 13C-graphite electrodes made in our laboratory from amorphous 13C powder. These particles are particularly useful tools for determining deposition efficiencies of ultrafine carbon particles in the respiratory tracts of laboratory animals and the translocation of particles to extrapulmonary sites. For compromised animals, we used acute and chronic pulmonary emphysema; a low-dose endotoxin inhalation aimed at priming target cells in the lung was also developed. Other modifying factors were age and copollutant (ozone) exposure. Exposure concentrations of the generated ultrafine particles for acute rodent inhalation studies were selected on the basis of lung doses predicted to occur in people inhaling approximately 50 micrograms/m3 urban ultrafine particles. Concentrations that achieved the same predicted lung burden per unit alveolar surface were used in rodents. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED)

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)5-74; disc. 75-7486
JournalResearch report (Health Effects Institute)
Issue number96
StatePublished - Aug 2000
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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