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Toxicol Lett. 2006 Jul 14;164(3):191-206. Epub 2006 Mar 28.

The immune system as a target for environmental chemicals: Xenoestrogens and other compounds.

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Department of Public Health, Faculty of Medicine, University of Toyama, 2630 Sugitani, Toyama 930-0194, Japan.


The immune system in higher organisms is under integrated control and has the capacity to rapidly respond to the environment. Recently, there has been a significant increase in the prevalence of allergic diseases. Environmental factors likely play a major role in the explosion of allergy. Although the "hygiene hypothesis" may explain the increase in allergic diseases which are prone to T helper 2 (Th2) immune responses, recent findings highlight the possible involvement of environmental xenobiotic chemicals which can modulate normal immune function. Interestingly, several reports suggest that the prevalence of systemic lupus erythematosus, a Th2-type autoimmune disease, is also increasing, although the development of high-sensitivity immunological tests may be a possible cause. The increased prevalence of autoimmune disease in women, the sexual dimorphism of the immune response, and the immunomodulatory effects of sex steroids, have focused attention on the role of chemicals which influence sex steroids in the development of immune diseases. Moreover, recent reports indicate that some environmental chemicals can work on nuclear hormone receptors, other than sex hormone receptors, and modulate immune reactions. This review focuses on the impact of environmental chemicals on immune system function and pathogenesis of immune diseases, including allergy and autoimmune diseases.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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