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Changes in lymphocyte subsets in workers exposed to 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD)


Objectives 2,3,7,8-Tetrachlorodibenzo-p-dioxin (TCDD) is known to have toxic effects on the haematopoietic system in animals but epidemiological studies in humans have shown inconsistent results. In this cross-sectional study we investigated changes in peripheral blood cell counts and lymphocyte subsets among workers from a Dutch historical cohort occupationally exposed to chlorophenoxy herbicides and contaminants including TCDD.

Methods Forty-seven workers who had been exposed to high levels of TCDD in the past and 38 low-exposed workers were included in the current investigation. Complete blood counts and differential and major lymphocyte subsets were analysed. Current plasma levels of TCDD (TCDDcurrent) were determined by high-resolution gas chromatography/isotope-dilution high resolution mass spectrometry. TCDD blood levels at the time of last exposure (TCDDmax) were estimated using a one-compartment first order kinetic model.

Results Cell counts and lymphocyte subsets were similar between high- and low-exposed workers, except for a non-dose dependent increase in CD4/CD8 ratio among high-exposed workers. Interestingly, most lymphocyte subsets, in particular the B cell compartment, showed a decrease with increasing levels of both TCDDcurrent and TCDDmax.

Conclusions Overall, our study showed that plasma TCDD levels had no effect on white blood cell counts and major subsets. However, a non-significant decrease in most lymphocyte subsets was noted, with the strongest effect for B cells. The latter finding may suggest that dioxin exposure might have an adverse impact on the haematopoietic system and lends some support to B cell lymphoma induction by dioxin.

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