Immunologic biomarkers in relation to exposure markers of PCBs and dioxins in Flemish adolescents (Belgium)

Environ Health Perspect. 2002 Jun;110(6):595-600. doi: 10.1289/ehp.02110595.


In this study, we investigated 17- to 18-year-old boys and girls to determine whether changes in humoral or cellular immunity or respiratory complaints were related to blood serum levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and dioxin-like compounds after lifetime exposure in Flanders (Belgium). We obtained blood samples from and administered questionnaires to 200 adolescents recruited from a rural area and two urban suburbs. Physicians recorded medical history and respiratory diseases. We measured immunologic biomarkers such as differential blood cell counts, lymphocyte phenotypes, and serum immunoglobulins. As biomarkers of exposure, we determined the serum concentrations of PCBs (PCB 138, PCB 153, and PCB 180) and dioxin-like compounds [chemical-activated luciferase expression (CALUX) bioassay]. The percentages of eosinophils and natural killer cells in blood were negatively correlated with CALUX toxic equivalents (TEQs) in serum (p = 0.009 and p = 0.05, respectively). Increased serum CALUX TEQs resulted in an increase in serum IgA levels (p = 0.05). Furthermore, levels of specific IgEs (measured by radioallergosorbent tests) of cat dander, house dust mite, and grass pollen were also significantly and negatively associated with the CALUX TEQ, with odds ratios (ORs) equal to 0.63 [95% confidence interval (CI), 0.42-0.96], 0.68 (0.5-0.93), and 0.70 (0.52-0.95), respectively. In addition, reported allergies of the upper airways and past use of antiallergic drugs were negatively associated with CALUX TEQs, with ORs equal to 0.66 (0.47-0.93) and 0.58 (0.39-0.85), respectively. We found a negative association between IgGs and marker PCBs in serum (p = 0.009). This study shows that immunologic measurements and respiratory complaints in adolescents were associated with environmental exposure to polyhalogenated aromatic hydrocarbons (PHAHs). The negative correlation between PHAHs and allergic responses in adolescents suggested that exposure may entail alterations in the immune status.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Belgium / epidemiology
  • Biological Assay
  • Biomarkers / analysis*
  • Dioxins / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Pollutants / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects
  • Immunoglobulin G / analysis
  • Luciferases / analysis
  • Luciferases / biosynthesis
  • Male
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / adverse effects*
  • Respiratory Tract Diseases / chemically induced


  • Biomarkers
  • Dioxins
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Immunoglobulin G
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Luciferases