Chemical research in toxicology

Tissue distribution of tungsten in mice following oral exposure to sodium tungstate.

PMID 21375269


Heavy metal tungsten alloys have replaced lead and depleted uranium in many munitions applications, due to public perception of these elements as environmentally unsafe. Tungsten materials left in the environment may become bioaccessible as tungstate, which might lead to population exposure through water and soil contamination. Although tungsten had been considered a relatively inert and toxicologically safe material, recent research findings have raised concerns about possible deleterious health effects after acute and chronic exposure to this metal. This investigation describes tissue distribution of tungsten in mice following oral exposure to sodium tungstate. Twenty-four 6-9 weeks-old C57BL/6 laboratory mice were exposed to different oral doses of sodium tungstate (0, 62.5, 125, and 200 mg/kg/d) for 28 days, and after one day, six organs were harvested for trace element analysis with inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS). Kidney, liver, colon, bone, brain, and spleen were analyzed by sector-field high-resolution ICP-MS. The results showed increasing tungsten levels in all organs with increased dose of exposure, with the highest concentration found in the bones and the lowest concentration found in brain tissue. Gender differences were noticed only in the spleen (higher concentration of tungsten in female animals), and increasing tungsten levels in this organ were correlated with increased iron levels, something that was not observed for any other organ or either of the two other metals analyzed (nickel and cobalt). These findings confirmed most of what has been published on tungsten tissue distribution; they also showed that the brain is relatively protected from oral exposure. Further studies are necessary to clarify the findings in splenic tissue, focusing on possible immunological effects of tungsten exposure.