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Environ Health Perspect. 1996 Dec;104 Suppl 6:1365-70.

An epidemiologic study of early biologic effects of benzene in Chinese workers.

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  • 1Division of Epidemiology and Genetics, National Cancer Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.


Benzene is a recognized hematotoxin and leukemogen, but its mechanisms of action in humans are still uncertain. To provide insight into these processes, we carried out a cross-sectional study of 44 healthy workers currently exposed to benzene (median 8-hr time-weighted average; 31 ppm), and unexposed controls in Shanghai, China. Here we provide an overview of the study results on peripheral blood cells levels and somatic cell mutation frequency measured by the glycophorin A (GPA) gene loss assay and report on peripheral cytokine levels. All peripheral blood cells levels (i.e., total white blood cells, absolute lymphocyte count, platelets, red blood cells, and hemoglobin) were decreased among exposed workers compared to controls, with the exception of the red blood cell mean corpuscular volume, which was higher among exposed subjects. In contrast, peripheral cytokine levels (interleukin-3, interleukin-6, erythropoietin, granulocyte colony-stimulating factor, tissue necrosis factor-alpha) in a subset of the most highly exposed workers (n = 11) were similar to values in controls (n = 11), suggesting that benzene does not affect these growth factor levels in peripheral blood. The GPA assay measures stem cell or precursor erythroid cell mutations expressed in peripheral red blood cells of MN heterozygous subjects, identifying NN variants, which result from loss of the GPA M allele and duplication of the N allele, and N phi variants, which arise from gene inactivation. The NN (but not N phi) GPA variant cell frequency was elevated in the exposed workers compared with controls (mean +/- SD, 13.9 +/- 8.4 mutants per million cells versus 7.4 +/- 5.2 per million cells, (respectively; p = 0.0002), suggesting that benzene produces gene-duplicating but not gene-inactivating mutations at the GPA locus in bone marrow cells of exposed humans. These findings, combined with ongoing analyses of benzene macromolecular adducts and chromosomal aberrations, will provide an opportunity to comprehensively evaluate a wide range of early biologic effects associated with benzene exposure in humans.

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