Do Battlefield Injury-acquired Indwelling Metal Fragments Induce Metal Immunogenicity?

Lauryn Samelko, Joseph Petfield, Kyron McAllister, Joseph Hsu, Michael Hawkinson, Joshua J. Jacobs, Nadim J. Hallab

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


BackgroundA battlefield-related injury results in increased local and systemic innate immune inflammatory responses, resulting in wound-specific complications and an increased incidence of osteoarthritis. However, little is known about whether severe injuries affect long-term systemic homeostasis, for example, immune function. Moreover, it also remains unknown whether battlefield-acquired metal fragments retained over the long term result in residual systemic effects such as altered immune reactivity to metals.Questions/purposesDoes a retained metal fragment from a battlefield injury contribute to increased (1) adaptive metal-specific immune responses, (2) systemically elevated metal ion serum levels, and (3) serum immunoglobulin levels compared with combat injuries that did not result in a retained metal fragment?MethodsIn this pilot study, we analyzed metal-immunogenicity in injured military personnel and noninjured control participants using lymphocyte transformation testing (LTT, lymphocyte proliferation responses to cobalt, chromium and nickel challenge at 0.001, 0.01 and 0.1-mM concentrations in triplicate for each participant), serum metal ion analysis (ICP-mass spectroscopy), and serum immunoglobulin analysis (IgE, IgG, IgA, and IgM). Military personnel with a battlefield-sustained injury self-recruited without any exclusion for sex, age, degree of injury. Those with battlefield injury resulting in retained metal fragments (INJ-FRAG, n = 20 male, mean time since injury ± SD was 12 ± 10 years) were compared with those with a battlefield injury but without retained metal fragments (INJ-NO-FRAG, n = 12 male, mean time since injury ± SD was 13 ± 12 years). A control group comprised of male noninjured participants was used to compare measured immunogenicity metrics (n = 11, males were selected to match battlefield injury group demographics).ResultsMilitary participants with sustained metal fragments had increased levels of metal-induced lymphocyte responses. The lymphocyte stimulation index among military participants with metal fragments was higher than in those with nonretained metal fragments (stimulation index = 4.2 ± 6.0 versus stimulation index = 2.1 ± 1.2 (mean difference 2.1 ± 1.4 [95% confidence interval 5.1 to 0.8]; p = 0.07) and an average stimulation index = 2 ± 1 in noninjured controls. Four of 20 participants injured with retained fragments had a lymphocyte proliferation index greater than 2 to cobalt compared with 0 in the group without a retained metal fragment or 0 in the control participants. However, with the numbers available, military personnel with retained metal fragments did not have higher serum metal ion levels than military participants without retained metal fragment-related injuries or control participants. Military personnel with retained metal fragments had lower serum immunoglobulin levels (IgG, IgA, and IgM) than military personnel without retained metal fragments and noninjured controls, except for IgE. Individuals who were metal-reactive positive (that is, a stimulation index > 2) with retained metal fragments had higher median IgE serum levels than participants who metal-reactive with nonmetal injuries (1198 ± 383 IU/mL versus 171 ± 67 IU/mL, mean difference 1027 ± 477 IU/mL [95% CI 2029 to 25]; p = 0.02).ConclusionsWe found that males with retained metal fragments after a battlefield-related injury had altered adaptive immune responses compared with battlefield-injured military personnel without indwelling metal fragments. Military participants with a retained metal fragment had an increased proportion of group members and increased average lymphocyte reactivity to common implant metals such as nickel and cobalt. Further studies are needed to determine a causal association between exposure to amounts of retained metal fragments, type of injury, personnel demographics and general immune function/reactivity that may affect personal health or future metal implant performance.Level of EvidenceLevel IV, therapeutic study.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)752-766
Number of pages15
JournalClinical orthopaedics and related research
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Surgery
  • Orthopedics and Sports Medicine


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