Open Access Research

NF-κB dependent and independent mechanisms of quartz-induced proinflammatory activation of lung epithelial cells

Damien van Berlo1, Ad M Knaapen23, Frederik-Jan van Schooten2, Roel PF Schins1 and Catrin Albrecht1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut für Umweltmedizinische Forschung (IUF) an der Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf gGmbH, Germany

2 Department of Health Risk Analysis and Toxicology, Maastricht University, the Netherlands

3 Department of Toxicology and Drug Disposition, Schering-Plough, the Netherlands

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Particle and Fibre Toxicology 2010, 7:13  doi:10.1186/1743-8977-7-13

Published: 21 May 2010


In the initiation and progression of pulmonary inflammation, macrophages have classically been considered as a crucial cell type. However, evidence for the role of epithelial type II cells in pulmonary inflammation has been accumulating. In the current study, a combined in vivo and in vitro approach has been employed to investigate the mechanisms of quartz-induced proinflammatory activation of lung epithelial cells. In vivo, enhanced expression of the inflammation- and oxidative stress-related genes HO-1 and iNOS was found on the mRNA level in rat lungs after instillation with DQ12 respirable quartz. Activation of the classical NF-κB pathway in macrophages and type II pneumocytes was indicated by enhanced immunostaining of phospho-IκBα in these specific lung cell types. In vitro, the direct, particle-mediated effect on proinflammatory signalling in a rat lung epithelial (RLE) cell line was compared to the indirect, macrophage product-mediated effect. Treatment with quartz particles induced HO-1 and COX-2 mRNA expression in RLE cells in an NF-κB independent manner. Supernatant from quartz-treated macrophages rapidly activated the NF-κB signalling pathway in RLE cells and markedly induced iNOS mRNA expression up to 2000-fold compared to non-treated control cells. Neutralisation of TNFα and IL-1β in macrophage supernatant did not reduce its ability to elicit NF-κB activation of RLE cells. In addition the effect was not modified by depletion or supplementation of intracellular glutathione.

The results from the current work suggest that although both oxidative stress and NF-κB are likely involved in the inflammatory effects of toxic respirable particles, these phenomena can operate independently on the cellular level. This might have consequences for in vitro particle hazard testing, since by focusing on NF-κB signalling one might neglect alternative inflammatory pathways.