Immunotoxicity of environmentally relevant concentrations of butyltins on human natural killer cells in vitro

Environ Res. 1999 Aug;81(2):108-16. doi: 10.1006/enrs.1999.3968.


The widespread environmental contamination, bio-accumulation, and toxic effects of butyltins (BTs) in wildlife is well documented, but the role of BTs in debilitating human immune function mediated through natural killer (NK) lymphocytes (a primary immune defense against tumor and virally infected cells) has not been described. In this study, we assessed the effects of in vitro exposure to a range of concentrations (encompassing environmentally relevant concentrations) of MBT, DBT, and TBT on human natural killer lymphocytes obtained from adult male and female donors. TBT inhibited the tumor-killing capacity of NK cells when the NK cells were pretreated in vitro at 200 nM for as little as 1 h. Inhibition of NK cytotoxic function ranged from 40 to greater than 90%. The toxic potential of butyltins followed the order of TBT > DBT > MBT. Conjugation assays revealed that after a 24-h exposure to TBT, there was about a 50% decrease in NK cell binding to tumor cells, indicating alteration of the NK cell receptors for tumor cells. Analysis of whole-blood samples for BTs revealed the presence of detectable concentrations of MBT, DBT, and TBT in all of the donors, indicating possible exposure of NK cells to BTs in the blood. The results of this study provide evidence that butyltin compounds significantly inhibit NK cell function and possible NK cell-mediated immunotoxic potential in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-2 / pharmacology
  • Killer Cells, Natural / drug effects*
  • Killer Cells, Natural / physiology
  • Male
  • Organotin Compounds / blood
  • Organotin Compounds / toxicity*
  • Trialkyltin Compounds / blood
  • Trialkyltin Compounds / toxicity*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Interleukin-2
  • Organotin Compounds
  • Trialkyltin Compounds
  • di-n-butyltin
  • tributyltin
  • dibutyldichlorotin