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Tissue distribution patterns of solubilized metals from internalized tungsten alloy in the F344 rat

1 Internal Contamination and Metal Toxicity Program, Armed Forces Radiobiology Research Institute, Uniformed Services University, 8901 Wisconsin Avenue, Bethesda, Maryland 20889-5603, USA
2 Current address: Department of Veterans Affairs, Manchester Veterans Affairs Medical Center, 718 Smyth Road, Manchester, New Hampshire 03104, USA

Special Issues: Metal Contamination in the Environment

Because of its unique physical and chemical properties, tungsten has been increasingly utilized in a variety of civilian and military applications. This expanded use also raises the risk of human exposure through internalization by various routes. In most cases the toxicological and carcinogenic properties of these tungsten-based compounds are not known nor are the dissolution biokinetics and ultimate fate of the associated metals. Using a laboratory rodent model system designed to assess the health effects of embedded metals, and a tungsten alloy comprised of tungsten (91.1%), nickel (6.0%), and cobalt (2.9%), we investigated the tissue distribution patterns of the metals over a six month period. Despite its perceived insolubility, tungsten rapidly solubilized from the implanted metal fragments, as did nickel and cobalt. All three metals distributed systemically over time with extremely elevated levels of all three metals found in kidney, liver, and spleen. Unexpectedly, tungsten was found to cross the blood-brain and blood-testis barriers and localize in those tissues. These results, along with recent reports suggesting that tungsten is a tumor promoter, raises serious concerns as to the long-term health effects of exposure to tungsten and tungsten-based compounds.
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