The ability of amosite cored asbestos bodies isolated from human lungs to catalyse damage to phi X174 RFI DNA in vitro was measured and compared with that of uncoated amosite fibres with a similar distribution of length. Asbestos bodies (5000 bodies) suspended for 30 minutes in 50 mM NaCl containing 0.5 micrograms phi X174 RFI DNA, pH 7.5, did not catalyse detectable amounts of DNA single strand breaks. Addition of the reducing agent ascorbate (1 mM), however, resulted in single strand breaks in 10% of the DNA. Asbestos bodies in the presence of a low molecular weight chelator (1 mM) and ascorbate catalysed the formation of single strand breaks in 21% of the DNA with citrate or 77% with ethylenediamine tetra-acetic acid (EDTA), suggesting that mobilisation of iron may increase damage to DNA. Preincubation for 24 hours with desferrioxamine B, which binds iron (Fe (III)) and renders it redox inactive, completely inhibited the reactivity of asbestos bodies with DNA, strongly suggesting that iron was responsible. Amosite fibres (5000 fibres/reaction), with a similar length distribution to that of the asbestos bodies, did not catalyse detectable amounts of single strand breaks in DNA under identical reaction conditions. The results of the present study strongly suggest that iron deposits on the amosite core asbestos bodies were responsible for the formation of DNA single strand breaks in vitro. Mobilisation of iron by chelators seemed to enhance the reactivity of asbestos bodies with DNA. It has been postulated that the in vivo deposition of the coat material on to fibres may be an attempt by the lung defenses to isolate the fibre from the lung surface and thus offer a protective mechanism from physical irritation. These results suggest, however, that the iron that is deposited on asbestos fibres in vivo may be reactive, potentially increasing the damage to biomolecules, such as DNA, above that of the uncoated fibres.
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