Rat alveolar macrophages were exposed to silica dust (quartz) suspended in culture medium (SiO2, dry particle size less than 5 μm in diameter) and fluctuation in their cytosolic free calcium content ([Ca2+]i) was detected in cell monolayers with a fluorescent calcium probe (Indo-1AM). Cytosolic free calcium content was correlated with lactate dehydrogenase (LDH) release, an index of cell damage. SiO2 induced a concentration- and time-dependent increase of cytosolic free Ca2+ ion concentration and LDH release. [Ca2+]i was increased about fivefold when cells were exposed to 200 μg of SiO2 per milliliter (3 ml per dish) for 2 hr. [Ca2+]i changed within 15 min of SiO2 treatment, whereas LDH release was measurably increased only after 30 min. Chelation of extracellular Ca2+ by 2 mm ethylene glycol bis(β-aminoethyl ether) N,N′-tetraacetate did not prevent SiO2-induced fluctuation of macrophage [Ca2+]i, but did partially prevent the SiO2-induced increase in LDH release (p < 0.01). We conclude that a very early event in SiO2-induced damage of alveolar macrophages involves mobilization of intracellular calcium pools to increase [Ca2+]i. These results suggest that SiO2-induced macrophage damage, a key event in the development of silicosis, may involve perturbation of intracellular calcium homeostasis.
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