Arsenic exposure associated T cell proliferation, smoking, and vitamin D in Bangladeshi men and women

PLoS One. 2020 Jun 23;15(6):e0234965. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0234965. eCollection 2020.


There are limited data examining the consequences of environmental exposure to arsenic on the immune system in adults, particularly among smokers. Smoking has been shown to exacerbate or contribute to impaired immune function in men chronically exposed to arsenic. In contrast, vitamin D (VitD) is known to have a positive influence on innate and adaptive immune responses. The effect of circulating VitD on arsenic-associated immune dysfunction is not known. Here we examine the relationship of arsenic exposure and T cell proliferation (TCP), a measure of immune responsiveness, and circulating VitD among adult men and women in Bangladesh. Arsenic exposure was assessed using total urinary arsenic as well as urinary arsenic metabolites all adjusted for urinary creatinine. TCP was measured ex vivo in cryopreserved peripheral blood mononuclear cells from 614 adult participants enrolled in the Bangladesh Health Effects of Arsenic Longitudinal Study; serum VitD was also evaluated. The influence of cigarette smoking on arsenic-induced TCP modulation was assessed only in males as there was an inadequate number of female smokers. These studies show that arsenic suppressed TCP in males. The association was significantly strong in male smokers and to a lesser extent in male non-smokers. Interestingly, we found a strong protective effect of high/sufficient serum VitD levels on TCP among non-smoking males. Furthermore, among male smokers with low serum VitD (⊔20 ng/ml), we found a strong suppression of TCP by arsenic. On the other hand, high VitD (>20 ng/ml) was found to attenuate effects of arsenic on TCP among male-smokers. Overall, we found a strong protective effect of VitD, when serum levels were >20 ng/ml, on arsenic-induced inhibition of TCP in men, irrespective of smoking status. To our knowledge this is the first large study of immune function in healthy adult males and females with a history of chronic arsenic exposure.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Arsenic / toxicity*
  • Arsenic / urine
  • Bangladesh / epidemiology
  • Cell Proliferation / drug effects
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Smoking / blood
  • Smoking / epidemiology
  • Smoking / immunology*
  • T-Lymphocytes / drug effects*
  • T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Vitamin D / blood*
  • Vitamin D / immunology


  • Vitamin D
  • Arsenic

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.12176688.v2