OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the extent to which human airway carinas accumulate ambient atmospheric particles, a newly developed technique was used to micro-dissect and analyse particle concentration in tubular segments and carinas of the large airways of 10 necropsy lungs from non-smokers from the general population of Vancouver. METHODS: Ratios of the particle concentrations on the carinas to the tubular segment immediately preceding it were measured with analytical electron microscopy for the mainstem bronchus, upper and lower lobe bronchi, and four different segmental or subsegmental bronchi--that is, Weibel generations 1 to about 5. A total of 119 carinal-tubular pairs was evaluated. RESULTS: Over all cases, both carinal and tubular particle concentrations increased with increasing airway generation; the median ratio of carinal to tubular particle concentration was 9:1 and did not show any trend with airway generation. The ratio was > 5 in 71% of carinal-tubular pairs, > 10 in 42% of pairs, > 20 in 31% of pairs, and > 100 in 9% of pairs. Some subjects showed a notable tendency to high ratios, with many ratios > 100, and other subjects had a tendency toward low ratios. The predominant mineral species in both carinas and tubular airway segments was crystalline silica and the relative proportion was similar in both sites; however, mean particle diameter was consistently less in the carinal tissues. CONCLUSIONS: These findings suggest that the ratio of carinal to tubular retained particles in the large airways in non-smokers is higher than might be supposed from data generated in airway casts, and that there is considerable variation in this ratio between subjects. This finding is of potential interest in models of carcinogen, toxin, and dose of fibrogenic agent to the large airways as it suggests high and sometimes extreme concentrations of toxic particles at carinas, and thus reinforces the notion that carinas may be sites of initiation of disease.
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