Wool and grain dusts stimulate TNF secretion by alveolar macrophages in vitro

D. M. Brown*, K. Donaldson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Objective - The aim of the study was to investigate the ability of two organic dusts, wool and grain, and their soluble leachates to stimulate secretion of tumour necrosis factor (TNF) by rat alveolar macrophages with special reference to the role of lipopolysaccharide (LPS).

Methods - Rat alveolar macrophages were isolated by bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) and treated in vitro with whole dust, dust leachates, and a standard LPS preparation. TNF production was measured in supernatants with the L929 cell line bioassay.

Results - Both wool and grain dust samples were capable of stimulating TNF release from rat alveolar macrophages in a dose-dependent manner. The standard LPS preparation caused a dose-dependent secretion of TNF. Leachates prepared from the dusts contained LPS and also caused TNF release but leachable LPS could not account for the TNF release and it was clear that non-LPS leachable activity was present in the grain dust and that wool dust particles themselves were capable of causing release of TNF. The role of LPS in wool dust leachates was further investigated by treating peritoneal macrophages from two strains of mice, LPS responders (C3H) and LPS non-responders (C3H/HEJ), with LPS. The non-responder mouse macrophages produced very low concentrations of TNF in response to the wool dust leachates compared with the responders. 

Conclusions - LPS and other unidentified leachable substances present on the surface of grain dust, and to a lesser extent on wool dust, are a trigger for TNF release by lung macrophages. Wool dust particles themselves stimulate TNF. TNF release from macrophages could contribute to enhancement of inflammatory responses and symptoms of bronchitis and breathlessness in workers exposed to organic dusts such as wool and grain.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)387-393
Number of pages7
JournalOccupational and Environmental Medicine
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1996


  • bronchitis
  • endotoxin
  • macrophage
  • organic dust
  • tumour necrosis factor

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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