Immune response of Brazilian farmers exposed to multiple pesticides

Ecotoxicol Environ Saf. 2020 Oct 1:202:110912. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2020.110912. Epub 2020 Jun 28.


Occupational exposure to pesticides has been identified as a factor that predisposes to disorders of the immune system. Immunosuppression, autoimmunity, cancer of various organs and other diseases in people who apply these products have been reported by the studies. This study aimed to investigate the relationship between occupational exposure to pesticides and the immunological profile in 43 farmers exposed to mixtures of pesticides for at least 15 years. A control group composed of 30 individuals without a history of occupational exposure to pesticides was also evaluated. Peripheral blood samples were processed by flow cytometry and cells were labelled with an 8-color monoclonal antibody panel. Plasma cytokines were also measured. Significant increase in classical monocytes (p < 0.001) and dendritic cells (p < 0.001) in the exposed group was observed as well in total T cells (p = 0.04), central memory CD8 T cells (p = 0.02) and effector memory CD8 T cells (p = 0.01). On the other hand, the activation markers of T cells as the expression of CD57, HLA-DR, CD25 and CD28 were evaluated and no difference was found between groups. When the B cells were analyzed, a significant decrease in total B cells (p = 0.01), regulatory B cells (p < 0.001) and plasmablasts (p < 0.001) in the exposed group, compared to healthy controls, was observed. Pro-inflammatory IL-6 was significantly elevated (p = 0.04) in the plasma of farmers compared to that of controls. The constant antigenic stimulus that occurs during exposure to pesticides can favor the recruitment of dendritic cells and macrophages (APCs) presents in the skin and respiratory tract. In the secondary lymphoid organs, the CD4 T and B cells that process such antigens are possibly undergoing proliferative exhaustion, with the consequent depletion of all mature B subpopulations. The resulting drop in humoral immunity may be offset by an increase in the number of circulating CD8 T lymphocytes due to their cytotoxic action.

Keywords: Farmers; Flow cytometry; Fungicides; Herbicides; Immune cells; Insecticides.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / analysis
  • Air Pollutants, Occupational / toxicity*
  • B-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • Brazil
  • CD28 Antigens / metabolism
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / cytology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / immunology
  • CD8-Positive T-Lymphocytes / metabolism
  • Cytokines / metabolism
  • Farmers
  • Female
  • Flow Cytometry
  • HLA-DR Antigens / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Interleukin-2 Receptor alpha Subunit
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Occupational Exposure / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pesticides / analysis
  • Pesticides / metabolism
  • Pesticides / toxicity*


  • Air Pollutants, Occupational
  • CD28 Antigens
  • Cytokines
  • HLA-DR Antigens
  • IL2RA protein, human
  • Interleukin-2 Receptor alpha Subunit
  • Pesticides