Environmental Immunology: Lessons Learned from Exposure to a Select Panel of Immunotoxicants

J Immunol. 2016 Apr 15;196(8):3217-25. doi: 10.4049/jimmunol.1502149.


Exposure to environmental contaminants can produce profound effects on the immune system. Many classes of xenobiotics can significantly suppress or enhance immune responsiveness depending on the levels (i.e., dose) and context (i.e., timing, route) of exposure. Although defining the effects that toxicants can have on the immune system is a valuable component to improving public health, environmental immunology has greatly enhanced our understanding of how the immune system functions and has provided innovative avenues to explore new immunotherapies. This Brief Review focuses on three examples of how immunotoxicology has benefitted the field of immunology, presenting information on the aryl hydrocarbon receptor signaling pathway, the immunomodulatory effects of nanomaterials, and the impact of xenobiotic exposure on the developing immune system. Collectively, contributions from immunotoxicology have significantly enhanced public health and spurred seminal advances in both basic and applied immunology.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzhydryl Compounds / toxicity
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Immune System / drug effects*
  • Immune System / embryology
  • Immunity, Innate / drug effects
  • Nanostructures / toxicity
  • Phenols / toxicity
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls / toxicity
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins / toxicity
  • Rats
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon / drug effects*
  • Xenobiotics / toxicity*


  • Benzhydryl Compounds
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Phenols
  • Polychlorinated Dibenzodioxins
  • Receptors, Aryl Hydrocarbon
  • Xenobiotics
  • Polychlorinated Biphenyls
  • bisphenol A