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Curr Environ Health Rep. 2016 Mar;3(1):1-12. doi: 10.1007/s40572-016-0082-3.

Arsenic Exposure and Immunotoxicity: a Review Including the Possible Influence of Age and Sex.

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, Varese, Italy.
European Commission, DG JRC, Chemical Assessment and Testing (CAT) Unit, Institute for Health and Consumer Protection, TP 260, Via E. Fermi, 2749, 21027, Ispra, VA, Italy.
CAAT, Bloomberg School of Public Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA.
CAAT-Europe, University of Konstanz, Konstanz, Germany.


Increasing evidence suggests that inorganic arsenic, a major environmental pollutant, exerts immunosuppressive effects in epidemiological, in vitro, and animal models. The mechanisms, however, remain unclear, and little is known about variation in susceptibilities due to age and sex. We performed a review of the experimental and epidemiologic evidence on the association of arsenic exposure and immune diseases. The majority of the studies described arsenic as a potent immunosuppressive compound, though others have reported an increase in allergy and autoimmune diseases, suggesting that arsenic may also act as an immune system stimulator, depending on the dose or timing of exposure. Limited information, due to either the high concentrations of arsenic used in in vitro studies or the use of non-human data for predicting human risks, is available from experimental studies. Moreover, although there is emerging evidence that health effects of arsenic manifest differently between men and women, we found limited information on sex differences on the immunotoxic effects of arsenic. In conclusion, preliminary data show that chronic early-life exposure to arsenic might impair immune responses, potentially leading to increased risk of infections and inflammatory-like diseases during childhood and in adulthood. Further investigation to evaluate effects of arsenic exposure on the developing immune system of both sexes, particularly in human cells and using concentrations relevant to human exposure, should be a research priority.


Age; Arsenic; Developmental immunotoxicity; Immune system; Immunotoxicity; Sex

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