Mechanisms of multiple chemical sensitivity

Toxicol Lett. 2002 Mar 10;128(1-3):85-97. doi: 10.1016/s0378-4274(01)00536-7.


Sensitivity to chemicals is a toxicological concept, contained in the dose-response relationship. Sensitivity also includes the concept of hypersensitivity, although controversy surrounds the nature of effects from very low exposures. The term multiple chemical sensitivity has been used to describe individuals with a debilitating, multi-organ sensitivity following chemical exposures. Many aspects of this condition extend the nature of sensitivity to low levels of exposure to chemicals, and is a designation with medical, immunological, neuropsychological and toxicological perspectives. The basis of MCS is still to be identified, although a large number of hypersensitivity, immunological, psychological, neurological and toxicological mechanisms have been suggested, including: allergy; autosuggestion; cacosomia; conditioned response; immunological; impairment of biochemical pathways involved in energy production; impairment of neurochemical pathways; illness belief system; limbic kindling; olfactory threshold sensitivity; panic disorder; psychosomatic condition; malingering; neurogenic inflammation; overload of biotransformation pathways (also linked with free radical production); psychological or psychiatric illness; airway reactivity; sensitisation of the neurological system; time dependent sensitisation, toxicant induced loss of tolerance. Most of these theories tend to break down into concepts involving: (1) disruption in immunological/allergy processes; (2) alteration in nervous system function; (3) changes in biochemical or biotransformation capacity; (4) changes in psychological/neurobehavioural function. Research into the possible mechanisms of MCS is far from complete. However, a number of promising avenues of investigation indicate that the possibility of alteration of the sensitivity of nervous system cells (neurogenic inflammation, limbic kindling, cacosomia, neurogenic switching) are a possible mechanism for MCS.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / diagnosis
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / etiology*
  • Multiple Chemical Sensitivity / pathology