To investigate the effects of benzidine (BZ) and beta-naphthylamine (BNA) on the immune system in man, the activity of natural killer (NK) cells as well as the relative number (percentage) of Leu 11a positive cells in peripheral blood lymphocytes were measured in 63 dyestuff workers exposed to BZ and BNA (aromatic amines, AA). The cytotoxic potential per NK cell (unit NK cell activity) was approximated by dividing the NK activity per fixed numbers of unseparated mononuclear cells by the percentage of Leu 11a positive lymphocytes that mediated NK activity. Thirty one of these workers had previously been treated for bladder cancer and then cured (ex-cancer AA workers) whereas the remaining 32 had not been diagnosed as having bladder cancer (non-cancer AA workers). There was no significant difference in the gross NK activity per unseparated peripheral mononuclear cells among ex-cancer AA workers, non-cancer AA workers, and the control group (p greater than 0.05). The relative number of Leu 11a positive cells, on the other hand, was significantly higher in AA workers than in the control group (p less than 0.01). The unit NK cell activity, as a result, was significantly more reduced in both ex-cancer and non-cancer AA workers than in the control group (p less than 0.05 and p less than 0.01, respectively). Between ex-cancer and non-cancer AA workers, no significant difference was observed in terms of unit NK cell activity. These results indicated that the function of NK cells per se was impaired in AA workers whereas the number of circulating NK cells was relatively increased.
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