Background Upward trends in allergy and asthma rates have been reported in most western societies, including the UK, where around 15–20% of the population now suffer from allergy or asthma. Scientific proof of the causes of these increases relics on accurate assessment of exposure and standardized diagnostic tests, such as for specific IgE in blood serum and skin testing. For many air pollutants it has proven difficult to assess an individual's exposure outside an occupational environment and reliable test development is hampered by not knowing whether an allergic or irritant mechanism is involved. These problems are particularly evident in the controversial issue of whether airborne releases from oilseed rape can cause health effects.
Objective To develop a method for evaluating the allergic/irritant potential of air pollutants and to assess whether the volatile organic compounds emitted by oilseed rape have this potential.
Methods Proteins were exposed in vitro to volatile organic compounds emitted by oilseed rape. Electrospray ionization-mass spectrometry was used to detect any resultant protein modifications.
Results Dimethyl disulphide. thiocyanic acid methyl ester and 2-methyl-propaneni-trile were able to modify human proteins. In addition, two isothiocyanates which can be emitted by damaged oilseed rape also have this ability. The major products emitted by undamaged oilseed rape, terpenes, a sesquiterpene and a terpene alcohol did not have this property, but the possible role of their oxidized products is discussed
Conclusion Some of the volatile organic compounds emitted by oilseed rape have the potential to be allergens irritants. Standardized modified proteins produced by this method should prove useful for biomonitoring human exposure in molecular epidemic-logical studies as well as in diagnostic tests. This method should find further application in investigations into the possible health effects of other environmental pollutants.