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Lead arthritis and lead poisoning following bullet wounds: A clinicopathologic, ultrastructural, and microanalytic study of two cases

Human Pathology
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/s0046-8177(88)80353-8
  • Arthritis
  • Bone Remodelling
  • Gunshot Wounds
  • Lead Inclusions
  • Lead Poisoning
  • Mitochondria
  • Plumbism
  • Biology


Bullet wounds causing lead synovitis in the wrist and knee are reported in two patients, one of whom also developed clinical plumbism. Very high lead levels in the synovial fluid are believed to be responsible for toxicity changes that occurred in the synovium and bone. Ultrastructurally, these alterations included the formation of nuclear lead inclusions, dilatation, and degranulation of the rough endoplasmic reticulum and deposition of crystalline precipitates in the matrix of the mitochondria in macrophages, osteoclasts, and synoviocytes, as well as the development of cytoplasmic lead inclusions in osteoclasts. Energy-dispersive x-ray elemental analysis (EDXEA) indicated that the nuclear inclusions contained only lead, whereas precipitates within the mitochondria and elsewhere in the cytoplasm were composed of complexes containing lead, calcium, and phosphorus. Similarly constituted extracellular complexes were incorporated into newly formed trabecular bone laid down as a physiologic response to the bullet lodged within the wrist bones. This bone subsequently exhibited defects in bone resorption, which were characterized by depressed osteoclastic function and a unique lesion termed incomplete osteocytic osteolysis. The genesis of this latter lesion is uncertain. The sequestration of the partially degraded bone fragments containing lead complexes into the marrow and eventually into the joint spaces and synovium permitted the recycling of bone lead, and this may have played an important role in inducing clinical plumbism in one of the patients in this study.

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