OBJECTIVES--To determine (a) reproducibility with previous cross sectional findings, and (b) the predictive value of initial release of tumour necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-alpha) towards later progression of coalworkers' pneumoconiosis (CWP). METHODS--Release of monocyte TNF-alpha after in vitro stimulation with coal mine dust, silica, and endotoxin was measured in 104 retired miners and was related to stage of CWP (chest radiograph) and cumulative exposure. A subgroup of 46 miners was screened by high resolution computed tomography (HRCT). Prospective analysis of TNF-alpha (40 out of 104 miners involved in the previous TNF-alpha study) was done by relating initial TNF-alpha to five year progression of CWP measured by comparison of paired chest radiographs. RESULTS--As observed previously, dust stimulated release of TNF-alpha was increased in miners, especially in the early stages of pneumoconiosis. Cumulative exposure was related to pneumoconiotic stage but not to release of TNF-alpha. This excluded TNF-alpha as an exposure marker. Initial concentrations (1987) of TNF-alpha were related to later progression of CWP. Miners who showed abnormally high dust stimulated release of TNF-alpha had an increased risk of progression in CWP (relative risk 8.1). CONCLUSIONS--These results show (a) the significant involvement of TNF-alpha in pneumoconiosis in humans induced by coal dust and (b) that this routine test possibly constitutes a powerful tool to estimate individual prognosis of pneumoconiotic disease, even after the end of occupational exposure.
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