OBJECTIVE--To investigate the ability of short and long fibre samples of amosite asbestos to stimulate superoxide production in isolated rat alveolar macrophages, and to determine how opsonisation with rat immunoglobulin might modify this response. METHODS--Macrophages were isolated from rat lung by bronchoalveolar lavage and challenged with both opsonised and non-opsonised long and short fibres of amosite asbestos. Release of superoxide anions was measured by the spectrophotometric reduction of cytochrome c, in the presence and absence of superoxide dismutase. RESULTS--Both long and short fibre samples of amosite asbestos without opsonisation were ineffective in stimulating isolated rat alveolar macrophages to release superoxide anions in vitro. After opsonisation with immunoglobulin, however, a dramatic enhancement of release of superoxide anion was seen with long fibres, but not short, which confirms the importance of fibre length in mediating biological effects. The increased biological activity of the long fibre sample is explained by increased binding of the opsonin to the fibre surface as, at equal mass, the long fibres bound threefold more immunoglobulin than the short fibres. CONCLUSION--Opsonisation is an important factor in modulation of the biological activity of fibres at the cellular level. Differences in binding of opsonin to samples of fibre previously considered to be identical apart from length, suggest that surface reactivity needs to be taken into account when fibres are compared. Binding of biological molecules, in vivo, may thus be an important modifying factor in the pathological processes initiated by fibres.
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