Does high organochlorine (OC) exposure impair the resistance to infection in polar bears (Ursus maritimus)? Part II: Possible effect of OCs on mitogen- and antigen-induced lymphocyte proliferation

J Toxicol Environ Health A. 2005 Mar 26;68(6):457-84. doi: 10.1080/15287390590903685.


Previous studies have reported alarmingly high levels of organochlorines (OCs), particularly polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), in free-ranging polar bears (Ursus maritimus). In this study plasma concentration of PCBs ranged from 14.8 to 200 ng/g wet weight. The aim of the study was to investigate associations between OCs and lymphocyte proliferation after in vitro stimulation with different mitogens and antigens. In 1998 and 1999, 26 and 30 free-ranging polar bears from Svalbard and Churchill, Canada, respectively, were recaptured 32-40 d following immunization with inactivated tetanus toxoid and hemocyanin from keyhole limpets (KLH) to sensitize lymphocytes. At recapture, blood was sampled for determination of plasma levels of PCBs and organochlorine pesticides (OCPs) and lymphocyte proliferation after in vitro stimulation with specific mitogens--phytohemagglutinin (PHA), pokeweed mitogen (PWM), concanavalin A (Con A), lipopolysaccharide (LPS), and purified protein derivative of Mycobacterium avium subsp. paratuberculosis (PPD)--and antigens: tetanus toxoid and KLH. The combinations of sum(PCBs) (sum of 12 individual PCB congeners), sum(OCPs) (sum of 6 OCPs), and their interactions contributed up to 15% of the variations in the lymphocyte responses. By using multiple regression analyses, followed by classical mathematic function analyses, thresholds for immunomodulation were estimated. Depending on the lymphocyte proliferation response studied, the estimated thresholds for significant immunomodulation were within the concentration ranges 32-89 ng/g wet weight (ww) and 7.8-14 ng/g ww for sum(PCBs) and sum(OCPs), respectively. Thus, this study demonstrated that OC exposure significantly influences specific lymphocyte proliferation responses and part of the cell-mediated immunity, which also is associated with impaired ability to produce antibodies (Lie et al., 2004).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antigens / immunology
  • Cell Culture Techniques
  • Cell Proliferation*
  • Environmental Exposure*
  • Environmental Pollutants / poisoning*
  • Female
  • Hemocyanins / administration & dosage
  • Hemocyanins / immunology
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated / poisoning*
  • Lymphocytes / immunology*
  • Male
  • Mitogens / immunology
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / poisoning*
  • Tetanus Toxoid / administration & dosage
  • Tetanus Toxoid / immunology
  • Ursidae / immunology*


  • Antigens
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Hydrocarbons, Chlorinated
  • Mitogens
  • Tetanus Toxoid
  • Hemocyanins
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls