Asbestosis: Clinical spectrum and pathogenic mechanisms

David W. Kamp*, Sigmund A. Weitzman

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalShort surveypeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Asbestosis is a diffuse pulmonary fibrotic process caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Despite extensive investigations, the precise mechanisms regulating asbestos-induced lung damage are not fully understood. This review summarizes the important clinical manifestations and pathogenic mechanisms of asbestosis. We focus on the relatively new information that has emerged over the last several years. The diagnosis of asbestosis is often easily established by well-characterized criteria. Pulmonary physiologic testing and high-resolution computed tomography can detect clinically occult disease. The finding of asbestos bodies in the bronchoalveolar lavage fluid confirms that an individual has been exposed to asbestos but is of unclear significance in diagnosing asbestosis. Evidence reviewed herein suggests that asbestos pulmonary toxicity is due in part to the physical properties of the fibers, iron-catalyzed reactive oxygen species (ROS), and macrophage-derived cytokines and growth factors. Special emphasis is given to the hypothesis that iron-catalyzed hydroxyl radicals (HO·) have a pivotal role in causing asbestosis. Definitive proof of this hypothesis is difficult to obtain since HO· are highly reactive and their deleterious effects to cells may have occurred years prior to disease presentation. Despite these limitations, considerable data firmly support the notion that ROS have an important role in causing asbestos toxicity. Further, the iron content of asbestos or the redox-active iron associated with or mobilized from the surface of the fibers is important in generating HO· as well as in activating inflammatory cells. There also appears to be a close association between asbestos-induced ROS production and cellular toxicity and DNA damage. The full expression of asbestos-induced diseases likely involves the contribution of cytokines, growth factors, proteases, and other inflammatory cell products. Many of the mechanisms by which asbestos- and inflammation-induced ROS activate specific genes in pulmonary cells remain to be elucidated.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)12-26
Number of pages15
JournalProceedings of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1997

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)


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