Environmental impacts on autoimmunity have significant public health implications. Epidemiological studies have shown associations between exposure to airborne silicates, such as crystalline silica or asbestos, and autoimmunity, but the etiology remains unclear.
The purpose of this study was to test the hypothesis that asbestos could lead to a specific pattern of autoantibodies and pathology indicative of systemic autoimmune disease (SAID).
Female C57Bl/6 mice were instilled intratracheally with 2 doses 60 μ g/mouse of amphibole asbestos (tremolite), wollastonite (a non-fibrogenic control fiber), or saline alone. Serum samples were collected and urine was checked for protein bi-weekly for 7 months. By 26 weeks, the asbestos-instilled animals had a significantly higher frequency of positive anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) tests compared to wollastonite and saline groups. The majority of positive ANAs showed homogeneous or combined homogeneous/speckled patterns, and tested positive for antibodies to dsDNA and SSA/Ro 52. Serum isotyping showed no significant changes in IgM, IgA, or IgG subclasses.
However, there was an overall decrease in the mean IgG serum concentration in asbestos-instilled mice. IgG immune complex deposition was demonstrated in the kidneys of asbestos-instilled mice, with evidence of glomerular and tubule abnormalities suggestive of glomerulonephritis. Flow cytometry demonstrated moderate changes in the percentages of CD25+ T-suppressor cells and B1a B-cells in the superficial cervical lymph nodes of the asbestos-instilled mice. These data demonstrate that asbestos leads to immunologic changes consistent with the development of autoimmunity. This study provides a non-autoimmune prone murine model for use in future elucidation of mechanisms involved in asbestos-induced autoimmune disease.