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Environ Health Perspect. 2007 Jul;115(7):1023-8.

Lack of evidence for contact sensitization by Pfiesteria extract.

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Toxicology Operations Branch, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, National Institutes of Health, Department of Health and Human Services, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina 27709, USA.



Members of the estuarine dinoflagellate genus Pfiesteria are reported to have been responsible for massive fish kills in the southeastern United States. Some reports suggest that exposure to waters having Pfiesteria blooms or occupation-related exposure might result in Pfiesteria-induced dermal irritation and inflammation. Although the toxin has not been isolated and purified, the original data suggested both hydrophilic and hydrophobic toxic components. Some investigators propose that dermonecrotic properties are associated with a hydrophobic fraction.


A bioactive C18-bound putative toxin (CPE) extracted from Pfiesteria-laden aquarium water during active fish-killing conditions was examined in the present study to evaluate its potential to produce inflammation and dermal sensitization and to determine whether the inflammation and dermatitis reported in early human exposure studies were allergic or irritant in nature.


This fraction was cytotoxic to mouse Neuro-2A cells and primary human epidermal keratinocytes (NHEK) at a concentration of 1 mg/mL. Balb/C mice exposed to 50-200% CPE by skin painting exhibited a 6-10% increase in ear swelling relative to vehicle-treated mice in a primary irritancy assay. There was no increase in lymph node cell proliferation as measured using the local lymph node assay. Exposure to CPE in culture up-regulated interleukin-8 in NHEK, whereas granulocyte macrophage-colony-stimulating factor and tumor necrosis factor alpha were only minimally altered.


This study suggests that CPE is cytotoxic to keratinocytes in culture at high concentrations and that it induces mild, localized irritation but not dermal sensitization.

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