Editor's Highlight: Abrasion of Artificial Stones as a New Cause of an Ancient Disease. Physicochemical Features and Cellular Responses

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Abstract

New outbursts of silicosis were recently reported among workers manufacturing an engineered material known as “artificial stone,” composed by high percentages of quartz (up to 98%) agglomerated with pigments and polymeric resins. Dusts released by abrasion during artificial stone polishing were characterized for particle size, morphology, and elemental composition and studied for (1) ability to catalyze free radical generation in acellular tests, (2) membranolytic potential on human erythrocytes, (3) cytotoxic activity (lactate dehydrogenase release) on murine alveolar macrophages (MH-S) and human bronchial epithelial (BEAS-2B) cell lines, (4) induction of epithelial-mesenchymal transition (EMT) in BEAS-2B cells. Min-U-Sil 5 was used as reference quartz. Artificial stone dusts exhibited morphological features close to quartz, but contained larger amount of metal transition ions (mainly, Fe, Cu, and Ti), potentially responsible for the high reactivity in free radical generation observed. Opposite to Min-U-Sil 5, they were neither hemolytic nor cytotoxic on MH-S cells, a low cytotoxicity only being observed with BEAS-2B cells. The presence on the particle surface of residues of the resin accounts for this attenuated behavior, as hemolysis appeared and cytotoxicity increased after thermal degradation of the resin, when the free quartz surface was exposed. All dusts induced EMT with loss of E-cadherin expression and increased the expression of mesenchymal proteins (α-smooth muscle actin and vimentin). This may contribute to explain the development of fibrosis on workers exposed to artificial stone dusts.

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