Immunological changes among workers occupationally exposed to styrene

  • Enrico Bergamaschi
  • Audrey Smargiassi
  • Antonio Mutti
  • Innocente Franchini
  • Roberto Lucchini
  • L. Alessio
Original Article


The functional status of the immune system was investigated in a group of 71 workers exposed to styrene and in 65 control subjects, recruited according to the same selection criteria and comparable as to sex, age, and confounding variables. Air and biological monitoring were used to characterize styrene exposure (median of the main urinary metabolites in the “next-morning” spot samples: 106 mg/g creatinine). Phenotypic analysis of peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) by automated flow cytometry revealed a reduced proportion of T lymphocyte subsets (CD3+, CD4+ and CD4+45+), with no changes in CD8+, and a higher proportion of B lymphocytes (CD19+) among styrene-exposed workers. The exposed workers showed a higher proportion of activation markers, namely DR and interleukin-2 receptors (CD25). Immunoglobulin subclasses were comparable in the two groups. An increased prevalence of abnormally low values was apparent for CD2+, CD3+, CD4+, CD4+45+ and CD11b subsets among workers exposed to styrene, whereas CD19+, DR+ and CD25+ showed an increased prevalence of abnormally high values. Natural killer-related phenotypes (CD56+, CD56+16+, and CD56+16) were more expressed among styrene workers, with average increase of 30%. However, the frequency distribution of the lytic activity of natural killer cells against K-562 target cells was shifted towards lower values in the exposed workers as compared to control subjects. Dose-response relationships between indices of internal dose and prevalence of abnormal values were detectable for T lymphocyte subsets, NK phenotypes, and activation markers. These findings suggest that moderate exposure to styrene is associated with an altered distribution of lymphocyte subsets. The decreased proportion of T lymphocytes, mainly of T helper-inducer cells, could hamper regulatory functions, thus suggesting a negative modulation by styrene exposure. Since a proper balance between immunocycte subsets is important for immunological responses, such changes should be regarded as adverse effects.

Key words

Lymphocyte subsets Natural killer activity Styrene Immunotoxicity 


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 1995

Authors and Affiliations

  • Enrico Bergamaschi
    • 1
  • Audrey Smargiassi
    • 2
  • Antonio Mutti
    • 1
  • Innocente Franchini
    • 1
  • Roberto Lucchini
    • 3
  • L. Alessio
    • 3
  1. 1.Laboratory of Industrial ToxicologyUniversity of Parma Medical SchoolParmaItaly
  2. 2.CINBIOSEUniversité du Quèbec à MontréalMontrealCanada
  3. 3.Institute of Occupational HealthUniversity of BresciaBresciaItaly

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