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Ecotoxicology. 2003 Feb-Aug;12(1-4):331-43.

A proposal for the use of biomarkers for the assessment of chronic pollution and in regulatory toxicology.

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Plymouth Environmental Research Centre, University of Plymouth, Drake Circus, Plymouth PL4 8AA, UK.


Despite a wealth of information on biomarkers, they are not routinely used for regulatory purposes, even though the potential benefits of biomarkers to rationalise complex exposure-response relationships are clear. Biomarkers can be inappropriately applied or misinterpreted, because the fundamental assumptions in exposure-response relations have not been considered. Factors causing temporal and spatial variability in biomarker responses are reviewed. These include numerous geochemical and biotic variables. The variation can be minimised by appropriate study site selection, experimental replication, multivariate epidemiological approaches, normalised controls, and temporal calibration of responses; so that the regulatory use of biomarkers for biomonitoring and tracking pollution events, including chronic or multiple exposures to complex mixtures is possible. We propose and define the characteristics of biomarkers of chronic exposure or effect, which must measure changes in pollution/effect against long-term changes in other general stresses (disease, nutrition, environmental quality), relate to cumulative injury, and remain responsive over months or years. Neuroendocrine, immunological, and histological biomarkers are suggested for chronic pollution. We propose a regulatory framework for biomarkers based on a weight of evidence approach that can integrate biomarkers in risk assessment and long-term monitoring programmes.

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