Detection of immunotoxicity of benzo[a]pyrene in a subacute toxicity study after oral exposure in rats

Toxicol Sci. 1999 Aug;50(2):214-20. doi: 10.1093/toxsci/50.2.214.


In an extended OECD 407 study protocol, including immune parameters, male Riv:Tox Wistar SPF rats were treated for 35 days with benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]p) (3, 10, 30, or 90 mg/kg body weight) by gavage. Oral administration of B[a]p in rats resulted not only in general toxicity, as indicated by the effects on body weight, but also in immunotoxicity, as indicated by the effects on bone marrow, thymus, spleen, and lymph nodes. Oral B[a]p induced a dose-related decrease in thymus weight (at 10, 30, and 90-mg/kg). Lymph node weights (popliteal, mandibular, and mesenteric) were decreased in the 90-mg/kg rats only. Histologically, indications for cortical atrophy were noted in the thymuses of the 30- and 90-mg/kg dose groups, which was confirmed by morphometric analysis. Nucleated spleen and bone marrow cell counts were decreased in the 90-mg/kg group. Both the absolute number (90 mg/kg) and relative number (10, 30, and 90 mg/kg) of B cells in the spleen were decreased. Red blood cell (RBC) and white blood cell (WBC) counts were significantly decreased; for the WBC at 90 mg/kg, and for the RBC at 10, 30, and 90 mg/kg. The absolute number of lymphocytes and eosinophilic granulocytes was decreased in the 90-mg/kg group, while the absolute number of monocytes was increased in the 10- and 30-mg/kg dose groups. Serum immunoglobulin levels showed a decrease of IgM and IgA after treatment of the animals with 30 and 90 mg/kg, respectively. The highest dose of B[a]p treatment (90 mg/kg) resulted in a significant decrease of natural killer (NK)-cell activity in the spleen. Most toxic effects were only observed in the highest-dose group (90 mg/kg), but compared to the general toxicity, some parameters indicating immunotoxic effects were also affected at lower doses (10 and 30 mg/kg). In conclusion, immunotoxicity of B[a]p can be detected using parameters of the immune system such as described in the recently updated OECD 407 guideline. In the present study thymus weight changed and spleen B-cell populations were affected at a dose of 10 mg/kg, a level where no overt general toxicity was noted.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzo(a)pyrene / toxicity*
  • Blood Cell Count / drug effects*
  • Bone Marrow / drug effects
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Immune System / pathology
  • Immunoglobulin A / drug effects
  • Immunoglobulin M / drug effects
  • Immunoglobulins / blood*
  • Lymph Nodes / drug effects*
  • Male
  • Organ Size / drug effects*
  • Random Allocation
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Spleen / drug effects
  • Thymus Gland / drug effects
  • Time Factors


  • Immunoglobulin A
  • Immunoglobulin M
  • Immunoglobulins
  • Benzo(a)pyrene