Chiral polychlorinated biphenyl transport, metabolism, and distribution: a review

Environ Sci Technol. 2010 Apr 15;44(8):2757-66. doi: 10.1021/es902208u.


Chirality can be exploited to gain insight into enantioselective fate processes that may otherwise remain undetected because only biological, but not physical and chemical transport and transformation processes in an achiral environment will change enantiomer compositions. This review provides an in-depth overview of the application of chirality to the study of chiral polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), an important group of legacy pollutants. Like other chiral compounds, individual PCB enantiomers may interact enantioselectively (or enantiospecifically) with chiral macromolecules, such as cytochrome P-450 enzymes or ryanodine receptors, leading to differences in their toxicological effects and the enantioselective formation of chiral biotransformation products. Species and congener-specific enantiomer enrichment has been demonstrated in environmental compartments, wildlife, and mammals, including humans, typically due to a complex combination of biotransformation processes and uptake via the diet by passive diffusion. Changes in the enantiomer composition of chiral PCBs in the environment have been used to understand complex aerobic and anaerobic microbial transformation pathways, to delineate and quantify PCB sources and transport in the environment, to gain insight into the biotransformation of PCBs in aquatic food webs, and to investigate the enantioselective disposition of PCBs and their methylsulfonyl PCBs metabolites in rodents. Overall, changes in chiral signatures are powerful, but currently underutilized tools for studies of environmental and biological processes of PCBs.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Food Chain
  • Humans
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / chemistry*
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / metabolism
  • Stereoisomerism


  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls