An overview of the effects of dioxins and dioxin-like compounds on vertebrates, as documented in human and ecological epidemiology

J Environ Sci Health C Environ Carcinog Ecotoxicol Rev. 2009 Oct;27(4):197-211. doi: 10.1080/10590500903310047.


Dioxins and dioxin-like compounds are primary examples of persistent organic pollutants that induce toxicity in both wildlife and humans. Over the past 200 years these compounds have been almost exclusively generated by human activity and have left a string of disasters in the wake of their accidental release. Most recently, the contamination of the Irish pork supply with dioxins resulted in an international recall of all Irish pork products. Epidemiologic data on human and ecological dioxin exposures have revealed a common pattern of biological response among vertebrate species, which is mediated through activation of the Aryl hydrocarbon Receptor (AhR). These AhR-mediated effects include profound consequences on the vertebrate individual exposed in early life with respect to myriad developmental endpoints including neurologic, immunologic, and reproductive parameters. Humans appear to be susceptible to these effects in a manner similar to that of the laboratory and wildlife species, which have demonstrated such outcomes. Furthermore, epidemiologic data suggest that there is little or no margin of exposure for humans with respect to these developmental effects. Given these concerns, prudent public health policy should include the continued reduction of exposures.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzofurans / toxicity
  • Chemical Hazard Release / statistics & numerical data*
  • Dibenzofurans, Polychlorinated
  • Dioxins / toxicity*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Epidemiologic Studies
  • Humans
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / analogs & derivatives
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / toxicity
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / metabolism
  • Vertebrates


  • Benzofurans
  • Dibenzofurans, Polychlorinated
  • Dioxins
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls