Nano-imaging of environmental dust in human lung tissue by soft and hard X-ray fluorescence microscopy

Alessandra Gianoncelli, Clara Rizzardi, Damien Salomon, Vincenzo Canzonieri, Lorella Pascolo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is well recognized that a large number of pulmonary diseases are induced by the effects of inhaled particulates. Anthracosis is defined as an asymptomatic, mild form of pneumoconiosis caused by the accumulation of “black carbon” in the lungs due to repeated exposure to air pollution or inhalation of smoke or coal dust particles. Since the human population is progressively exposed to an increasing number and doses of anthropogenic micro and nano particles/compounds, there is a pressing urgency to explore toxicological impact arising from these exposures and the molecular mechanisms driving the body defense or possible related diseases. The toxicity mechanisms are clearly related to chemical composition and physical and surface properties of materials. A combination of synchrotron radiation-based (SR-based) nano X-ray fluorescence (XRF) imaging and soft X-ray microscopy was used to chemically characterize environmental particulates (anthracosis) in lung tissues from urban subjects with the aim of better understanding the complex nature of related lungs' deposits. High-resolution XRF analyses performed at ESRF and Elettra synchrotrons allowed discriminating single particles in the heterogeneous aggregates found in the lung tissue. The small particles have variable composition resulting from the different combinations of Ti with O, K and Si, Al and Si, or Zn and Fe with O. Interestingly, simultaneous absorption and phase contrast images showed the particulate morphology and allowed to predict the presence of very dense nanoparticles or high concentration of heavy elements.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)71-78
Number of pages8
JournalSpectrochimica Acta - Part B Atomic Spectroscopy
Publication statusPublished - Sep 1 2018


  • Anthracosis
  • Lung
  • Nanoimaging
  • X-ray fluorescence
  • X-ray microscopy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Instrumentation
  • Spectroscopy


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