• organochlorines;
  • estrogenicity;
  • xenoestrogens;
  • endocrine disrupters.

In many epidemiological studies based on the direct measurement of exposure to organochlorines, the chemicals of concern are determined directly from adipose tissue samples. Although the measurement of all possible organochlorines, their metabolites, isomers and congeners may be desirable, it is expensive and time-consuming and many chemicals with hormonal activity may not yet have been identified. Testing systems are therefore required to screen for estrogenicity and to identify appropriate biomarkers of human exposure. To address this issue, we developed and standardised a method to assess the total estrogenic xenobiotic burden in human adipose tissue. The method extracts and separates the more lipophilic xenoestrogens from ovarian estrogens, with a subsequent bioassay determination of the cumulative effect of the xenoestrogens. It was applied to 400 women, using 200 mg of adipose tissue: 65% of samples showed measurable estrogenicity in the fraction where most non-polar xenoestrogens eluted, and 76% of fractions where ovarian estrogens eluted were positive for estrogenicity. Residues of 16 organochlorine pesticides were determined. No correlation was found between pesticide content and estrogenicity of the samples. The high percentage of positive samples suggests that the method is sensitive enough to be used as a biomarker of human exposure to estrogenic xenobiotics and can be applied in epidemiological studies.