OBJECTIVE--To investigate if blood Cu++/Zn++ superoxide dismutase, glutathione peroxidase, catalase, and total plasma antioxidant activities could be markers of biological activity resulting from exposure to respirable coal mine dust in active miners, and of pneumoconiosis in retired miners. METHODS--Blood samples were randomly obtained from active surface workers (n = 30) and underground miners (n = 34), and from retired miners without (n = 21), and with (n = 33) pneumoconiosis. Antioxidant enzyme activities and total plasma antioxidants were measured in erythrocytes and plasma. Non-parametric tests were completed by analyses of covariance to compare antioxidants between groups, taking into account potential confounding factors (age, smoking history (pack-years)). RESULTS--Erythrocyte Cu++/Zn++ superoxide dismutase activity was significantly higher in the group of underground miners than the group of surface workers. The differences in total plasma antioxidants and plasma glutathione peroxidase activity between both groups were related to age. Glutathione peroxidase activity increased in the plasma of retired miners with pneumoconiosis, compared with retired miners without pneumoconiosis. No differences were found either in erythrocyte antioxidant enzyme activities or in total plasma antioxidants between the groups of retired miners without and with pneumoconiosis. CONCLUSIONS--In this study, erythrocyte Cu++/Zn++ superoxide dismutase activity may be considered as a marker of effect of respirable coal mine dust in exposed workers. This result is in agreement with the hypothesis that reactive oxygen species are involved in cell injury induced by coal mine dust, and may be predictive of the degree of inflammation and pneumoconiosis induced by coal mine dust. The increase in glutathione peroxidase activity in the plasma of retired miners with pneumoconiosis may be the result of a response to the increasing hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) production due to the disease process.
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