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Analysis of T-cell proliferation and cytokine secretion in the individuals exposed to arsenic *

Over six million people in nine districts of West Bengal, India are exposed to very high levels of arsenic primarily through their drinking water. More than 300,000 people showed arsenic-induced skin lesions in these districts. This is regarded as the greatest arsenic calamity in the world. Chronic arsenicosis causes varied dermatological signs ranging from pigmentation changes, hyperkeratosis to non-melanocytic cancer of skin, and also malignancies in different internal organs. Higher incidences of opportunistic infections are found in the arsenic-exposed individuals, indicating that their immune systems may be impaired somehow. We have thus investigated the effect of arsenic on T-cell proliferation and cytokine secretion in 20 individuals with arsenic-induced skin lesions and compared the results with 18 arsenic-unexposed individuals. A marked dose-dependent suppression of Concanavalin A (Con A) induced T-cell proliferation was observed in the arsenic-exposed individuals compared with the unexposed (P < 0.001) individuals. This correlated with a significant decrease in the levels of secreted cytokines by the T cells (TNF-, IFN-, IL2, IL10, IL5, and IL4) in the exposed individuals (P < 0.001). Thus it can be inferred that arsenic exposure can cause immunosuppression in humans.

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Published on 10-20-2008
Authors: R Biswas, P Ghosh, N Banerjee, JK Das, T Sau, A Banerjee
Source: Human & Experimental Toxicology, Vol. 27, No. 5, 381-386 (2008),