Tributyltin and dibutyltin alter secretion of tumor necrosis factor alpha from human natural killer cells and a mixture of T cells and natural killer cells


Correspondence to: Margaret M. Whalen, Department of Chemistry, Tennessee State University, 3500 John A. Merritt Blvd., Nashville, TN 37209, USA. Email:


Butyltins (BTs) have been in widespread use. Tributyltin (TBT) has been used as a biocide in a variety of applications and is found in human blood samples. Dibutyltin (DBT) has been used as a stabilizer in polyvinyl chloride plastics and as a de-worming agent in poultry. DBT, like TBT, is found in human blood. Human natural killer (NK) cells are the earliest defense against tumors and viral infections and secrete the cytokine tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNF-α). TNF-α is an important regulator of adaptive and innate immune responses. TNF-α promotes inflammation and an association between malignant transformation and inflammation has been established. Previously, we have shown that TBT and DBT were able to interfere with the ability of NK cells to lyse tumor target cells. Here we show that BTs alter cytokine secretion by NK cells as well as a mixture of T and NK lymphocytes (T/NK cells). We examined 24-, 48-h and 6-day exposures to TBT (200–2.5 nM) and DBT (5–0.05 μM) on TNF-α secretion by highly enriched human NK cells and T/NK cells. The results indicate that TBT (200–2.5 nM) decreased TNF-α secretion from NK cells. In the T/NK cells, 200 nM TBT decreased secretion whereas 100–5 nM TBT increased secretion of TNF-α. NK cells or T/NK cells exposed to higher concentrations of DBT showed decreased TNF-α secretion whereas lower concentrations showed increased secretion. The effects of BTs on TNF-α secretion are seen at concentrations present in human blood. Copyright © 2012 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.