The relationship between polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) burden and several indicators of immune function was investigated as part of the HELPcB (Health Effects in High-Level Exposure to PCB) program, offering bio-monitoring to workers, relatives, and neighbors exposed to PCBs by a German transformers and capacitors recycling company. The present retrospective observational study evaluates the correlation of plasma levels of total PCBs, five indicator congeners (28, 101, 138, 153, 180), and seven dioxin-like congeners (105, 114, 118, 156, 157, 167, 189) with several parameters of immune function. The cross-sectional study was performed immediately after the end of exposure (258 subjects), and one (218 subjects), and two (177 subjects) years later. At the first time point, measurements showed significant positive correlation between congeners with low to medium chlorination and the relative proportion of CD19 positive B-cells among lymphocytes, as well as a negative correlation of PCB114 with serum IgM, and of PCB 28 with suppressor T-cell and NK-cell numbers. Congeners with a high degree of chlorination, in particular PCB157 and 189, were positively associated with expression of the activation marker CD25 on T-cells in the cohort of the second time point. No associations between PCB levels and IFN-y production by T-cells and killing by NK-cells were found. In conclusion, there were several effects on the cellular composition of adaptive immunity, affecting both T- and B-cells. However, the values were not generally outside the reference ranges for healthy adult individuals and did not indicate overt functional immunodeficiency, even in subjects with the uppermost PCB burden.
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