One of the open questions regarding the asbestos problem is the fate of the mineral fibres in the body once inhaled and deposited in the deep respiratory system. In this context, the present paper reports the results of an electron microscopy study of both mineral fibres and asbestos bodies found in the lung tissue of a patient who died of malignant mesothelioma due to past occupational exposure. In concert with previous in vivo animal studies, our data provide evidence that amphibole asbestos fibres are durable in the lungs, whereas chrysotile fibres are transformed into a silica-rich product, which can be easily cleared. Amphibole fibres recovered from samples of tissue of the deceased display a high degree of crystallinity but also show a very thin amorphous layer on their surface; 31% of the fibres are coated with asbestos bodies consisting of a mixture of ferroproteins (mainly ferritin). Here, we propose an improved model for the coating process. Formation of a coating on the fibres is a defence mechanism against fibres that are longer than 10 µm and thinner than 0.5 µm, which macrophages cannot engulf. The mature asbestos bodies show signs of degradation, and the iron stored in ferritin may be released and potentially increase oxidative stress in the lung tissue.
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