Short-term tracheal explant cultures from the rabbit were used to study the metabolism of the carcinogen aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) and to determine the cell types that are susceptible to damage by AFB1 and their relative contents of monooxygenase enzymes. Tracheas were cultured in serum-free medium for 0.5–24 h with 0.7 µm [14C]AFB1, and metabolism was measured by determining the level of binding of the carcinogen to DNA and by the release of metabolites into the medium. The binding of aflatoxin B1 was time dependent and appeared to peak at 12 h in culture. In addition, the metabolites aflatoxicol, aflatoxin M1, and aflatoxin Q1 were produced by the explants. Ultrastructural evaluation of cultured tracheas showed degenerative changes exclusively in nonciliated secretory cells after 4 h in culture. Extensive nonciliated secretory cell necrosis was evident by 12 h. Ciliated cells did not show degenerative changes until 12 h and appeared much more viable after 24-h exposure to AFB1 relative to the nonciliated cells. Tracheal sections stained to demonstrate rabbit lung cytochrome P-450, Forms 2 and 5, and cytochrome P-450 reduced nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate reductase by an immunoperoxidase technique showed intense staining selectively within nonciliated cells. In total, the data revealed that: (a) rabbit tracheal explants are able to metabolize aflatoxin B1; (b) the nonciliated secretory cell population in this tissue is the target cell for cytotoxicity of this carcinogen; and (c) as is the case in the more distal airways, the nonciliated epithelial cells appear to have a high content of components of the pulmonary cytochrome P-450 monooxygenase system, which may be an important factor in the susceptibility of these cells and this region of the airways to suspected airborne carcinogens.


Supported in part by USPHS Grant ES03591 and a grant from the American Lung Association of California. Paper 3134 of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station.

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