Relevance of asbestos bodies in sputum

H. Teschler, A. B. Thompson, R. Dollenkamp, N. Konietzko, U. Costabel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The presence of asbestos bodies (ABs) in sputum specimens of individuals with occupational asbestos exposure has been well-documented. The aim of this study was to determine their clinical relevance in comparison to the concentration of AB in bronchoalveolar lavage (BAL) and lung tissue. Subjects were included following o well-documented exposure of asbestos history (n=93) or BAL fluid analysis positive for ABs (n=42). The subjects with a well documented history of AB exposure were divided into three groups: heavy (Group 1, n=29); moderate (Group 2, n=31); or occasional exposure (Group 3, n=33). BAL fluid was available from all subjects, and lung tissue from 21 subjects. To assess the variability, 10 sputum positive subjects collected subsequent sputum on days 2, 7, 14, 30 and 90. ABs were determined by light microscopy after membrane filtration of specimen digests. The mean sputum AB content was highest in Group 1 (2.4±5.5 AB · mL-1), lower in Group 2 (0.2±0.3 AB · mL-1) and lowest in Group 3 (0.1±0.1 AB · mL-1) suggesting a correlation with cumulative exposure. However, many negative sputum samples were noted, when BAL specimens were positive. The AB content of sputum and BAL specimens did not correlate. ABs were found in sputum of all subjects with a tissue content of >1,000 AB · cm-3, but in none with contents of <1,000 AB · cm3. Substantial variability of ABs was found in the five sequentially collected sputa of 10 initially positive patients (coefficient of variation 28-93%), but only two false negatives were found in these 50 samples. Thus, sputum analysis for asbestos bodies is an insensitive method for assessing the lung asbestos burden, much less sensitive than bronchoalveolar lavage fluid analysis. However, a sputum sample positive for asbestos bodies is suggestive of a high lung asbestos burden.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)680-686
Number of pages7
JournalEuropean Respiratory Journal
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1996
Externally publishedYes


  • Asbestos bodies
  • bronchoalveolar lavage
  • lung tissue
  • sputum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine


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