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Keywords:

  • formaldehyde;
  • NK cell;
  • B cell;
  • T cell;
  • T cell subset

Abstract

Background

Formaldehyde is used in many occupational settings, most notably in manufacturing, health care, and embalming. Formaldehyde has been classified as a human carcinogen, but its mechanism of action remains uncertain.

Methods

We carried out a cross-sectional study of 43 formaldehyde-exposed workers and 51 unexposed age and sex-matched controls in Guangdong, China to study formaldehyde's early biologic effects. To follow up our previous report that the total lymphocyte count was decreased in formaldehyde-exposed workers compared with controls, we evaluated each major lymphocyte subset (i.e., CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells, natural killer [NK] cells, and B cells) and T cell lymphocyte subset (CD4+ naïve and memory T cells, CD8+ naïve and memory T cells, and regulatory T cells). Linear regression of each subset was used to test for differences between exposed workers and controls, adjusting for potential confounders.

Results

Total NK cell and T cell counts were about 24% (P = 0.037) and 16% (P = 0.0042) lower, respectively, among exposed workers. Among certain T cell subsets, decreased counts among exposed workers were observed for CD8+ T cells (P = 0.026), CD8+ effector memory T cells (P = 0.018), and regulatory T cells (CD4+FoxP3+: P = 0.04; CD25+FoxP3+: P = 0.008).

Conclusions

Formaldehyde-exposed workers experienced decreased counts of NK cells, regulatory T cells, and CD8+ effector memory T cells; however, due to the small sample size; these findings need to be confirmed in larger studies. Am. J. Ind. Med. 56:252–257, 2013. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.