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Peripheral cholinesterase inhibition by occupational chlorpyrifos exposure in Australian termiticide applicators

Lookup NU author(s): Professor Faith Williams, Dr John Edwards


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Occupational exposure to organophosphorus insecticides (OPs), such as chlorpyrifos, may be monitored by the measurement of the activity of peripheral cholinesterase (ChE) enzymes, including erythrocyte acetylcholinesterase (EAChE) and serum cholinesterase (SChE). Lymphocyte neuropathy target esterase (NTE) is thought to have potential as a predictor of organophosphate-induced delayed neuropathy (OPIDN). This paper describes work performed in 39 Australian pest control operators (PCOs) exposed to a termiticide containing chlorpyrifos, and 34 unexposed control subjects. EACH activities in PCOs did not differ from those of unexposed control workers. Mean NTE activity was slightly higher in PCOs than in controls and mean SChE was 52% of control activity. These results indicate that exposure of Australian PCOs to termiticides containing chlorpyrifos may be monitored using SChE but not EAChE or NTE, and that workers in this industry have sufficiently high OP exposure to significantly depress SChE activity. SChE inhibition of 70-80 % may be associated with symptoms. Although no current symptoms were reported to be associated with occupational OP exposure, these workers may be at increased risk of acute effects following inadvertent spills or self-contamination due to their background level of exposure to OPs. While it is preferable to compare ChE enzyme activities between pre- and post-exposure periods to evaluate OP-related effects in individuals, in some cases there is an absence of pre-exposure data. The results of this study suggest that a screening value for SChE of 550 nmol/min/ml in a single blood sample may be useful to identify potentially OP-exposed individuals in the Australian population. Australian control subjects were similar with respect to EAChE, but displayed activities of NTE and SChE approximate to 50 and 23% lower than an unexposed UK reference group. While these comparisons are presently speculative, they suggest that there may be differences in SChE and NTE activities in control populations of the two countries. The routine treatment of Australian homes with termiticides containing OPs, or differences in the availability and use of domestic OP-containing insecticides may explain these population differences. Further work is required to examine whether these differences are real, and if so their likely cause. (C) 2001 Elsevier Science Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Williams FM; Edwards JW; Dyer SM; Cattani M; Pisaniello DL

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Toxicology

Year: 2001

Volume: 169

Issue: 3

Pages: 177-185

ISSN (print): 0300-483X

ISSN (electronic): 1879-3185

Publisher: Elsevier Ireland Ltd


DOI: 10.1016/S0300-483X(01)00509-1


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