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Vet Pathol. 2009 Sep;46(5):952-9. doi: 10.1354/vp.08-VP-0240-S-COM. Epub 2009 May 9.

Mycoplasma pulmonis and lymphoma in bioassays in rats.

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  • 1UAB Department of Genetics, 724 Kaul Human Genetics Building, 720 S. 20th Street, Birmingham, AL 35294, USA.


Lymphomas were reported to be induced in rats in bioassays of aspartame, methyl-tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE), and other chemicals conducted by a nonprofit cancer research organization. European regulatory authorities concluded that lymphomas in the aspartame study were caused by Mycoplasma pulmonis and suggested that this also was the case for the MTBE bioassay. To assess the role of M. pulmonis in these bioassays, we reviewed the tumor data for the aspartame and MTBE bioassays and, additionally, the organization's bioassay of methanol. For all 3 studies, the most frequently reported hematopoietic neoplasm was lympho-immunoblastic lymphoma, the most frequently affected organ was the lung, and, in almost half of the rats with this diagnosis, the lung was the only affected organ. Lesions diagnosed as lymphoma in published illustrations had pleomorphic cellular morphology and appeared to contain neutrophils. Information from these reports and other sources indicated that lesions typical of M. pulmonis disease were prevalent among the aspartame and MTBE study rats and that the rats were not specific-pathogen-free. Because the lymphoma type, cellular morphology, and organ distribution reported in these studies are atypical of lymphoma in rats, because lymphocyte and plasma cell accumulation in the lung is characteristic of M. pulmonis disease, and because M. pulmonis disease can be exacerbated by experimental manipulations, including chemical treatment, we suggest that a plausible alternative explanation for the reported results of these bioassays is that the studies were confounded by M. pulmonis disease and that lesions of the disease were interpreted as lymphoma.

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