The mesothelium consists of a single layer of flattened to cuboidal cells forming the epithelial lining of the serous cavities of the body including the peritoneal, pericardial and pleural cavities. Deposition of asbestos fibers in the parenchyma of the lung may result in the penetration of the visceral pleura from where the fiber can then be carried to the pleural surface, thus leading to the development of malignant mesothelial plaques. The processes leading to the development of peritoneal mesotheliomaremain unresolved, although it has been proposed that asbestos fibers from the lung are transported to the abdomen and associated organs via the lymphatic system. Additionally, asbestos fibers may be deposited in the gut after ingestion of sputum contaminated with asbestos fibers.
Pleural contamination with asbestos or other mineral fibers has been shown to cause cancer. Long thin asbestos fibers (blue asbestos, amphibole fibers) are more potent carcinogens than "feathery fibers" (chrysotile or white asbestos fibers). However, there is now evidence that smaller particles may be more dangerous than the larger fibers. They remain suspended in the air where they can be inhaled, and may penetrate more easily and deeper into the lungs. "We probably will find out a lot more about the health aspects of asbestos from World Trade Center attack, unfortunately," said Dr. Alan Fein, chief of pulmonary and critical-care medicine at North Shore-Long Island Jewish Health System. Dr. Fein has treated several patients for "World Trade Center syndrome" or respiratory ailments from brief exposures of only a day or two near the collapsed buildings.
Mesothelioma development in rats has been demonstrated following intra-pleural inoculation of phosphorylated chrysotile fibers. It has been suggested that in humans, transport of fibers to the pleura is critical to the pathogenesis of mesothelioma. This is supported by the observed recruitment of significant numbers of macrophages and other cells of the immune system to localized lesions of accumulated asbestos fibers in the pleural and peritoneal cavities of rats. These lesions continued to attract and accumulate macrophages as the disease progressed, and cellular changes within the lesion culminated in a morphologically malignant tumor.
Experimental evidence suggests that asbestos acts as a complete carcinogen with the development of mesothelioma occurring in sequential stages of initiation and promotion. The molecular mechanisms underlying the malignant transformation of normal mesothelial cells by asbestos fibers remain unclear despite the demonstration of its oncogenic capabilities. However, complete in vitro transformation of normal human mesothelial cells to malignant phenotype following exposure to asbestos fibers has not yet been achieved. In general, asbestos fibers are thought to act through direct physical interactions with the cells of the mesothelium in conjunction with indirect effects following interaction with inflammatory cells such as macrophages.
Analysis of the interactions between asbestos fibers and DNA has shown that phagocytosed fibers are able to make contact with chromosomes, often adhering to the chromatin fibers or becoming entangled within the chromosome. This contact between the asbestos fiber and the chromosomes or structural proteins of the spindle apparatus can induce complex abnormalities. The most common abnormality is monosomy of chromosome 22. Other frequent abnormalities include structural rearrangement of 1p, 3p, 9p and 6q chromosome arms.
Common gene abnormalities in mesothelioma cell lines include deletion of the tumor suppressorgenes:
Neurofibromatosis type 2 at 22q12
Asbestos has also been shown to mediate the entry of foreign DNA into target cells. Incorporation of this foreign DNA may lead to mutations and oncogenesis by several possible mechanisms:
Inactivation of tumor suppressor genes
Activation of oncogenes
Activation of proto-oncogenes due to incorporation of foreign DNA containing a promoter region
Activation of DNA repair enzymes, which may be prone to error
Activation of telomerase
Prevention of apoptosis
Asbestos fibers have been shown to alter the function and secretory properties of macrophages, ultimately creating conditions which favour the development of mesothelioma. Following asbestos phagocytosis, macrophages generate increased amounts of hydroxyl radicals, which are normal by-products of cellular anaerobic metabolism. However, these free radicals are also known clastogenic and membrane-active agents thought to promote asbestos carcinogenicity. These oxidants can participate in the oncogenic process by directly and indirectly interacting with DNA, modifying membrane-associated cellular events, including oncogene activation and perturbation of cellularantioxidant defences.
Asbestos also may possess immunosuppressive properties. For example, chrysotile fibres have been shown to depress the in vitro proliferation of phytohemagglutinin-stimulated peripheral blood lymphocytes, suppress natural killer cell lysis and significantly reduce lymphokine-activated killer cell viability and recovery. Furthermore, genetic alterations in asbestos-activated macrophages may result in the release of potent mesothelial cell mitogens such as platelet-derived growth factor (PDGF) and transforming growth factor-β (TGF-β) which in turn, may induce the chronic stimulation and proliferation of mesothelial cells after injury by asbestos fibres...