Giornale italiano di medicina del lavoro ed ergonomia

[Reduced thymulin production during occupational exposure to lead].

PMID 15915658


Thymulin is a thymic hormone that being activated by binding a zinc ion promotes differentiation and several functions of T lymphocytes. It has been demonstrated only in experimental animals that metallic lead (Pb) is able to cause adverse effects on thymocyte number and function. The objective of this study is to evaluate the plasmatic level of active thymulin of 58 male workers being exposed for more than one year to low lead doses with respect to 59 male never exposed workers. All these were subjected to anamnesis collection, medical examination and determination of blood lead (PbB), plasmatic lead (PbPl), plasmatic thymulin, urinary lead (PbU) and urinary zinc (ZnU) levels. The mean plasma concentration of active thymulin was significantly lower in lead exposed than in non exposed workers. Active thymulin was also significantly and negatively correlated to PbB, PbPl and PbU level and resulted to be significantly and negatively influenced by PbB. Lead exposed workers had slightly higher zinc concentration in urine than non exposed workers, increasing ZnU levels by class of PbB. It is the first time that a toxic effect of lead on plasmatic active thymulin levels is demonstrated in humans, particularly in occupationally exposed workers. This study opens perspectives for further research that would both confirm the results and verify the mechanisms of action of lead on thymulin either direct or indirect and the possible role of zinc.