How toxic environmental chemical DBT affects the immune system

October 28, 2008,

An international team of researchers at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the University of Basel in Switzerland have issued a report on the mechanism of toxicity of a chemical compound called Dibutyltin (DBT). Their findings will be published by PLoS ONE on October 28.

DBT is part of a class of high toxic and widely distributed chemical compounds called organotins, DBT is most commonly used as an anti-fouling agent in paint, for example in the fishing and shipbuilding industries. It is also used in the production of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) plastic tubes and bottles.

According to co-lead investigators Michael E. Baker, Ph.D., researcher in UC San Diego's Department of Medicine, Division of Nephrology-Hypertension, and Alex Odermatt, Ph.D., at the University of Basel, DBT is closely related to tributyltin (TBT), another well-known pollutant. Concern about the side effects of TBT led the United Nations' International Maritime Organization to organize a global ban on its use.

"TBT is metabolized by the body's liver into DBT," the scientists explained. "Humans are also exposed to DBT by drinking water from PVC pipes. Because it is poorly broken down, DBT remains in the environment and it appears that its toxic effects are more rapid and more pronounced than those of TBT."

Symptoms of organotin exposure can include irritated skin, dizziness, difficulty breathing, and flu-like symptoms. Although long-terms effects in humans are uncertain, large doses of certain organotins have been shown to damage the reproductive and central nervous systems, bone structure, the liver and immune system in mammals.

Combining studies of the effect in cell culture of DBT on the function of a key class of steroid hormone, glucocorticoids, with computer-based analyses of the molecular interaction of DBT and the glucocorticoid receptor (GR), the U.S. and Swiss scientists explained the mechanism by which DBT inhibits transcriptional activity of the GR.

The GR is expressed in almost every cell in the body. Besides important functions in energy metabolism, the GR helps to regulate genes that control the body's immune system. The researchers propose that by blocking GR activation, DBT disrupts the appropriate response of the immune system during inflammation, providing an explanation for some of the toxic effects of this organotin.

Source: University of California - San Diego

Explore further: Including diagnosis related costs, 3-D mammography costs less than digital mammography

Related Stories

New treatment reduces self-harm among adolescents

December 8, 2017

Young people who demonstrate self-harming behaviours often admit that they have also attempted to take their own lives. Treatment directly aimed at combating self-harm and suicide has shown effective results.

A snooze button for the circadian clock

August 14, 2008

We may use the snooze button to fine-tune our sleep cycles, but our cells have a far more meticulous and refined system. Humans, and most other organisms, have 24-hour rhythms that are regulated by a precise molecular clock ...

Changing the target of tuberculosis therapies

October 9, 2015

Almost one in four of the world's cases of tuberculosis (TB) are in India and the disease is constantly adapting itself to outwit our medicines. Could the answer lie in targeting not the bacteria but its host, the patient?

Recommended for you

Maximizing the environmental benefits of autonomous vehicles

February 15, 2018

The added weight, electricity demand and aerodynamic drag of the sensors and computers used in autonomous vehicles are significant contributors to their lifetime energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, according to a new ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.