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Environ Health Perspect. 2010 Jul;118(7):976-81. doi: 10.1289/ehp.0901751. Epub 2010 Mar 18.

Polychlorinated biphenyls disrupt intestinal integrity via NADPH oxidase-induced alterations of tight junction protein expression.

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Department of Neurosurgery, University of Kentucky, Lexington, 40536, USA.



Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are widely distributed environmental toxicants that contribute to numerous disease states. The main route of exposure to PCBs is through the gastrointestinal tract; however, little is known about the effects of PCBs on intestinal epithelial barrier functions.


The aim of the present study was to address the hypothesis that highly chlorinated PCBs can disrupt gut integrity at the level of tight junction (TJ) proteins.


Caco-2 human colon adenocarcinoma cells were exposed to one of the following PCB congeners: PCB153, PCB118, PCB104, and PCB126. We then assessed NAD(P)H oxidase (NOX) activity and expression and the barrier function of Caco-2 cells. In addition, the integrity of intestinal barrier function and expression of TJ proteins were evaluated in C57BL/6 mice exposed to individual PCBs by oral gavage.


Exposure of Caco-2 cells to individual PCB congeners resulted in activation of NOX and increased permeability of fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC)-labeled dextran (4 kDa). Treatment with PCB congeners also disrupted expression of TJ proteins zonula occludens-1 (ZO-1) and occludin in Caco-2 cells. Importantly, inhibition of NOX by apocynin significantly protected against PCB-mediated increase in epithelial permeability and alterations of ZO-1 protein expression. Exposure to PCBs also resulted in alterations of gut permeability via decreased expression of TJ proteins in an intact physiological animal model.


These results suggest that oral exposure to highly chlorinated PCBs disrupts intestinal epithelial integrity and may directly contribute to the systemic effects of these toxicants.

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