BACKGROUND: Silica-induced pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis in animals provides a good model for chronic pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis. Although lymphocytes are implicated in the pathogenesis of pulmonary fibrosis, experimental models using silica-treated athymic nude mice have not been successful in showing the fibrogenic mechanism regulated by T cells. The aim of this study was to re-evaluate the role of T lymphocytes in the development of silicosis by comparing the response to silica administration of nude athymic mutants with that of euthymic animals. METHODS: Suspensions of silica particles were transnasally administered to nude athymic mice (Balb/c nu/nu) as well as to their euthymic littermates (Balb/c nu/+). The degree of pulmonary inflammation and fibrosis was assessed on days 14, 28, and 56 based upon histological observation, analysis of collagen deposition in the lungs, and analysis of the cellular constituent, protein, and phospholipid content in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid. RESULTS: Histologically, athymic mice developed less severe interstitial pneumonitis than euthymic mice. In euthymic mice the lung hydroxyproline content increased with time after silica administration from 6.48 (0.38) micrograms hydroxyproline/mg dry lung weight on day 0 to 8.87 (0.41) micrograms/mg on day 56. A gradual increase in lung hydroxyproline content was also observed in athymic mice but the increase was significantly smaller than in euthymic mice (6.63 (0.43) micrograms/mg on day 0, 7.90 (0.19) micrograms/mg on day 56). Administration of silica resulted in an increase in the number of macrophages and neutrophils and in the total protein and phospholipid content of the bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) fluid in both mouse strains. No significant difference was detected between athymic and euthymic mice in the numbers of macrophages, but the increase in neutrophils in the BAL fluid of athymic mice was significantly smaller than in euthymic mice on days 14 and 56. The total protein and phospholipid content of the BAL fluid from athymic mice was lower than that from euthymic mice. CONCLUSIONS: T lymphocytes appear to be involved in the pathogenesis of silica-induced pneumonitis. Since pulmonary fibrosis develops even in nude athymic mice, T cells do not seem to play a primary part in fibrogenic response but they regulate, at least to some extent, the response of inflammatory cells and fibrogenesis of the lung.
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