A reassessment of the nomenclature of polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) metabolites

Environ Health Perspect. 2004 Mar;112(3):291-4. doi: 10.1289/ehp.6409.


Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are a widespread class of persistent organic chemicals that accumulate in the environment and humans and are associated with a broad spectrum of health effects. PCB biotransformation has been shown to lead to two classes of PCB metabolites that are present as contaminant residues in the tissues of selected biota: hydroxylated (HO) and methyl sulfone (MeSO2) PCBs. Although these two types of metabolites are related structures, different rules for abbreviation of both classes have emerged. It is important that a standardized nomenclature for the notation of PCB metabolites be universally agreed upon. We suggest that the full chemical name of the PCB metabolite and a shorthand notation should be adopted using the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry's chemical name/original Ballschmiter and Zell number of the parent congener, followed by the assignment of the phenyl ring position number of the MeSO2- or HO-substituent. This nomenclature provides a clear, unequivocal set of rules in naming and abbreviating the PCB metabolite structure. Furthermore, this unified PCB metabolite nomenclature approach can be extended to the naming and abbreviation of potential metabolites of structurally analogous contaminants such as HO-polybrominated biphenyls and HO-polybrominated diphenyl ethers.

MeSH terms

  • Biotransformation
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide
  • Environmental Pollutants / classification
  • Environmental Pollutants / metabolism*
  • Hydroxylation
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / classification*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / metabolism*
  • Sulfones
  • Terminology as Topic*


  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Sulfones
  • dimethyl sulfone
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • Dimethyl Sulfoxide