Serum concentrations of antibodies against vaccine toxoids in children exposed perinatally to immunotoxicants

Carsten Heilmann, Esben Budtz-Jørgensen, Flemming Nielsen, Birger Heinzow, Pál Weihe, Philippe Grandjean

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    Background: Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) may cause immunotoxic effects, but the detailed dose-response relationship and possible vulnerable time windows of exposure are uncertain. In this study we applied serum concentrations of specific antibodies against childhood vaccines as sentinels of immunotoxicity.

    Objectives: The main objective was to assess the possible dependence of antibody concentrations against diphtheria and tetanus toxoids in children with regard to prenatal and postnatal PCB exposures.

    Methods: From a cohort of 656 singleton births formed in the Faroe Islands during 1999-2001, children were invited for examination with assessment of serum antibody concentrations at 5 years (before and after a booster vaccination) and at 7 years of age. Total PCB concentrations were determined in serum from ages 5 and 7 years, and data were also available on PCB concentrations in maternal pregnancy serum, maternal milk, and, for a subgroup, the child's serum at 18 months of age.

    Results: A total of 587 children participated in the examinations at ages 5 and/or 7 years. At age 5 years, before the booster vaccination, the antidiphtheria antibody concentration was inversely associated with PCB concentrations in milk and 18-month serum. Results obtained 2 years later showed an inverse association of concentrations of antibodies against both toxoids with PCB concentrations at 18 months of age. The strongest associations suggested a decrease in the antibody concentration by about 20% for each doubling in PCB exposure. At age 5 years, the odds of an antidiphtheria antibody concentration below a clinically protective level of 0.1 IU/L increased by about 30% for a doubling in PCB in milk and 18-month serum.

    Conclusions: Developmental PCB exposure is associated with immunotoxic effects on serum concentrations of specific antibodies against diphtheria and tetanus vaccinations. The immune system development during the first years of life appears to be particularly vulnerable to this exposure.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1434-38
    Number of pages5
    JournalEnvironmental Health Perspectives
    Issue number10
    Early online date20 Jun 2010
    Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


    • Developmental toxicity
    • Environmental exposure
    • Immunotoxicity
    • Methylmercury
    • Polychlorinated biphenyls


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