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Biomarkers. 2004 Jul-Oct;9(4-5):341-52.

Serum pneumoproteins and biomarkers of exposure to urban air pollution: a cross-sectional comparison of policemen and foresters.

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  • 1Unit of Industrial Toxicology and Occupational Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Catholic University of Louvain, B-12 Brussels, Belgium.


Very few biomarkers are available for the non-invasive detection of effects of urban air pollution on the respiratory tract. The objective was to evaluate whether Clara cell protein (CC16) and surfactant-associated protein-A (SP-A), two pulmonary secretory proteins, were useful in the detection of effects of urban air pollutants on the pulmonary epithelium. These proteins were determined in the serum of 53 policemen working in Brussels, Belgium, and a control group of 59 foresters working in the countryside. Except for ozone (O(3)), annual concentrations of the main air pollutants (PM(10), NO(2), CO, SO(2) and benzene) were significantly higher in Brussels than in the country. The proportion of smokers was lower in urban policemen compared with foresters, but they smoked on average a similar number of cigarettes per day as confirmed by their urinary excretion of cotinine. Muconic acid, a marker of benzene exposure, was significantly higher in urban policemen than in foresters, in both smokers and non-smokers. Multiple regression analysis showed that the type of work, smoking habits and time spent outdoors and in a car were significant determinants of benzene uptake. Tobacco smoking impaired lung function to a similar extent in urban policemen and foresters. The serum levels of SP-A were significantly increased in smokers but were not different between policemen and foresters. Serum CC16 was significantly reduced by tobacco smoking and slightly decreased in policemen compared with foresters. Interestingly, the reduction of serum CC16 was more pronounced in the subgroup of traffic compared with survey policemen, the latter being also less exposed to benzene. The results suggest that serum pneumoproteins and especially serum CC16 could be useful in the detection of chronic effects of urban air pollutants on the respiratory epithelium of populations particularly at risk.

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