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Environ Mol Mutagen. 2008 Mar;49(2):155-64.

Evaluation of evidence for infection as a mode of action for induction of rat lymphoma.

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National Center for Environmental Assessment, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Washington, DC, USA.


The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) released a 2006 report questioning the relationship of aspartame exposure with increased incidence of lymphomas/leukemias in a European Ramazzini Foundation (ERF) rat study. The EFSA report suggested that the lymphoma/leukemia findings were most likely explained by infection in the rat colony. The ERF has also conducted the only available long-term oral study of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE). Thus, using the EFSA report as support, some have now raised questions about the human relevance of MTBE-associated hemolymphoreticular tumors reported by the ERF in female rats as well as whether their incidence was elevated above background levels. In this report, we discuss the hypothesized mode of action (MOA) of infection-induced lymphoma and its relevance to MTBE-associated lymphomas. We address the relationship of rat strain and study duration to lymphoma susceptibility and review evidence of low background rates of this tumor in control animals at the ERF, similar survival rates for female rats at the ERF and National Toxicology Program (NTP), and chemical- and gender-specificity of tumor induction for this type of tumor in studies at the ERF. We find that the background incidence of hemolymphoreticular tumors in female rats in the MTBE study is consistent with contemporaneous studies at the ERF and that there is an exposure-related effect, which is unlikely to be due to infections. We examine more recent tumor classification schemes for lymphomas, which support the combination of lymphoblastic leukemias and lymphomas reported by Belpoggi et al. ([1995] Toxicol Ind Health 11:119-149; [1998] Eur J Oncol 3:201-206).

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