During a period of 10 months, inter and intraindividual variations in plasma cholinesterase (ChE) activity were studied in 331 employees of an organophosphorus insecticide factory, and in 193 healthy volunteers without occupational exposure to known ChE inhibitors. Repeated (n = 6) measurements of ChE activity and ChE substance concentration were performed in 410 subjects. The study showed substantial intraindividual variations of ChE activity and ChE substance concentration (up to 40%) in the employees and in the reference group. When effects due to sex, ChE-1 phenotype, body weight, and height were considered, one subgroup of employees of the organophosphorus insecticide factory showed a significantly lower average ChE activity than other subgroups; as ChE substance concentrations were found to be proportionally decreased, it was concluded that the low ChE activity was unrelated to occupational exposure. A combined determination of ChE activity and ChE substance concentration is recommended as a rational diagnostic tool when an unexpected decrease of plasma ChE activity is registered in people joining organophosphorus insecticide health surveillance programmes.
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