Individual susceptibility to silicosis is suggested by the lack of a uniform dose response relation and by the presence of immunological epiphenomena, such as increased antibody levels and associated diseases that reflect altered immune regulation. Human leucocyte antigens (HLA) are linked with immune response capability and might indicate a possible genetic susceptibility to silicosis. Forty nine silicotic subjects were identified from chest radiographs in a population based study in Leadville, Colorado. They were interviewed for symptoms and occupational history and gave a blood specimen for HLA-A, -B, -DR, and -DQ typing and for antinuclear antibody, immune complexes, immunoglobulins, and rheumatoid factor. Silicotic subjects had twice the prevalence of B44 (45%) of the reference population and had triple the prevalence of A29 (20%), both of which were statistically significant when corrected for the number of comparisons made. No perturbations in D-region antigen frequencies were detected. B44-positive subjects were older at diagnosis and had less dyspnoea than other subjects. A29-positive subjects were more likely to have abnormal levels of IgA and had higher levels of immune complexes. This study is the first to find significant HLA antigen excesses among a series of silicotic cases and extends earlier reported hypotheses that were based on groups of antigens of which B44 and A29 are components.
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