Evaluation of candidate genes for cholinesterase activity in farmworkers exposed to organophosphorus pesticides: association of single nucleotide polymorphisms in BCHE

Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Oct;118(10):1395-9. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901764. Epub 2010 Jun 8.


Background: Organophosphate pesticides act as cholinesterase inhibitors. For those with agricultural exposure to these chemicals, risk of potential exposure-related health effects may be modified by genetic variability in cholinesterase metabolism. Cholinesterase activity is a useful, indirect measurement of pesticide exposure, especially in high-risk individuals such as farmworkers. To understand fully the links between pesticide exposure and potential human disease, analyses must be able to consider genetic variability in pesticide metabolism.

Objectives: We studied participants in the Community Participatory Approach to Measuring Farmworker Pesticide Exposure (PACE3) study to determine whether cholinesterase levels are associated with single-nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) involved in pesticide metabolism.

Methods: Cholinesterase levels were measured from blood samples taken from 287 PACE3 participants at up to four time points during the 2007 growing season. We performed association tests of cholinesterase levels and 256 SNPs in 30 candidate genes potentially involved in pesticide metabolism. A false discovery rate (FDR) p-value was used to account for multiple testing.

Results: Thirty-five SNPs were associated (unadjusted p < 0.05) based on at least one of the genetic models tested (general, additive, dominant, and recessive). The strongest evidence of association with cholinesterase levels was observed with two SNPs, rs2668207 and rs2048493, in the butyrylcholinesterase (BCHE) gene (FDR adjusted p = 0.15 for both; unadjusted p = 0.00098 and 0.00068, respectively). In participants with at least one minor allele, cholinesterase levels were lower by 4.3-9.5% at all time points, consistent with an effect that is independent of pesticide exposure.

Conclusions: Common genetic variation in the BCHE gene may contribute to subtle changes in cholinesterase levels.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Agriculture*
  • Butyrylcholinesterase / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Occupational Exposure*
  • Organophosphorus Compounds / toxicity*
  • Pesticides / toxicity*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide*


  • Organophosphorus Compounds
  • Pesticides
  • Butyrylcholinesterase