OBJECTIVES: To evaluate short term immunological changes after agricultural exposure to commercial formulations of chlorophenoxy herbicides. METHODS: Blood samples were collected from 10 farmers within seven days before exposure, one to 12 days after exposure, and again 50 to 70 days after exposure. Whole blood was used to count lymphocyte subsets with monoclonal antibodies. Peripheral blood mononuclear (PBM) cells were used to measure natural killer (NK) cell activity and lymphocyte response to mitogenic stimulations. Values before exposure were used as reference. RESULTS: In comparison with concentrations before exposure, a significant reduction was found one to 12 days after exposure in the following variables (P < 0.05): circulating helper (CD4) and suppressor T cells (CD8), CD8 dim, cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTL), natural killer cells (NK), and CD8 cells expressing the surface antigens HLA-DR (CD8-DR), and lymphoproliferative response to mitogen stimulations. All immunological values found 50-70 days after exposure were comparable with concentrations before exposure, but mitogenic proliferative responses of lymphocytes were still significantly decreased. CONCLUSIONS: According to our data agricultural exposure to commercial 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) and 4-chloro-2-methylphenoxyacetic acid (MCPA) formulations may exert short term immunosuppressive effects. Further studies should clarify whether the immunological changes found may have health implications and can specifically contribute to cancer aetiology.
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