Silicosis and coal workers' pneumoconiosis.
Exposure to coal mine dust and/or crystalline silica results in pneumoconiosis with initiation and progression of pulmonary fibrosis. This review presents characteristics of simple and complicated coal workers' pneumoconiosis (CWP) as well as pathologic indices of acute and chronic silicosis by summarizing results of in vitro, animal, and human investigations. These results support four basic mechanisms in the etiology of CWP and silicosis: a) direct cytotoxicity of coal dust or silica, resulting in lung cell damage, release of lipases and proteases, and eventual lung scarring; b) activation of oxidant production by pulmonary phagocytes, which overwhelms the antioxidant defenses and leads to lipid peroxidation, protein nitrosation, cell injury, and lung scarring; c) activation of mediator release from alveolar macrophages and epithelial cells, which leads to recruitment of polymorphonuclear leukocytes and macrophages, resulting in the production of proinflammatory cytokines and reactive species and in further lung injury and scarring; d) secretion of growth factors from alveolar macrophages and epithelial cells, stimulating fibroblast proliferation and eventual scarring. Results of in vitro and animal studies provide a basis for proposing these mechanisms for the initiation and progression of pneumoconiosis. Data obtained from exposed workers lend support to these mechanisms.