Institute of Crystallography - CNR

Crystal structure determination of a lifelong biopersistent asbestos fibre using single-crystal synchrotron X-ray micro-diffraction

The six natural silicates known as asbestos may induce fatal lung diseases via inhalation, with a latency period of decades. The five amphibole asbestos species are assumed to be biopersistent in the lungs, and for this reason they are considered much more toxic than serpentine asbestos (chrysotile). Here, we refined the atomic structure of an amosite amphibole asbestos fibre that had remained in a human lung for similar to 40 years, in order to verify the stability in vivo. The subject was originally exposed to a blend of chrysotile, amosite and crocidolite, which remained in his parietal pleura for similar to 40 years. We found a few relicts of chrysotile fibres that were amorphous and magnesium depleted. Amphibole fibres that were recovered were undamaged and suitable for synchrotron X-ray micro-diffraction experiments. Our crystal structure refinement from a recovered amosite fibre demonstrates that the original atomic distribution in the crystal is intact and, consequently, that the atomic structure of amphibole asbestos fibres remains stable in the lungs for a lifetime; during which time they can cause chronic inflammation and other adverse effects that are responsible for carcinogenesis. The amosite fibres are not iron depleted proving that the iron pool for the formation of the asbestos bodies is biological (haemoglobin/plasma derived) and that it does not come from the asbestos fibres themselves.

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Giacobbe, Carlotta; Di Giuseppe, Dario; Zoboli, Alessandro; Gualtieri, Magdalena Lassinantti; Bonasoni, Paola; Moliterni, Anna; Corriero, Nicola; Altomare, Angela; Wright, Jonathan; Gualtieri, Alessandro F.