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The immune system is highly complex; in it maturation is subject to control by endogenous mediators and cytokines and exogenous influences (bacterial products, pollutants, allergens, and so forth). The mediators possess activation, growth-promotion, or differentiation properties, or all of these, and are under the influences of potent, but not well understood regulators. A large number of xenobiotics and pollutants adversely affect the immune system. Considering the abundance of xenobiotics and pollutants in the environment, the concern is that current knowledge on the adverse health effects in humans may represent only a small part of the role that pollutant exposure may play in disease causation. Moreover, exposure to pollutants might represent risk to susceptible individuals with already fragile immune systems (for example, immunodeficiency, asthma, malnutrition, old age, and infancy). Because of obvious limitations in human clinical studies, an understanding of these risks depends to a great extent upon the clarification of cellular and molecular events underlying pollutant and xenobiotic-induced immune and inflammatory alterations. These approaches will hopefully lead to the development of new and objective markers, which should be useful in identifying susceptible individuals.
immunological markers, immune response, inflammation, inhaled pollutants, lung disorders, hyperreactivity, occupational exposures
Chief, Cell and Molecular Biological Section, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Health Effects Research Laboratory, Research Triangle Park, NC