Martyn Smith, Ph.D.
Background: Benzene, a widely used chemical, is a constituent of gasoline and many solvents. Its multiple uses have led to widespread environmental contamination. It is a known human carcinogen causing leukemia and other blood-related disorders, and it acts as an immunosuppressive agent. Despite decades of research, the questions remain about the cellular and molecular mechanisms by which benzene has its effects. Additionally, there are few biomarkers of benzene exposure and early biological effect. To address these needs and to better understand the risks of benzene exposure, Dr. Marytn Smith, an NIEHS-supported scientist at the University of California at Berkeley, employed an analysis of the protein changes in response to benzene exposure in a population of benzene exposed workers in China.
Advance: The study identified three proteins which were consistently down-regulated in the exposed workers compared to the non-exposed control subjects. Two of these proteins were identified as platelet factor (PF) 4 (PF4) and connective tissue activating peptide (CTAP) III.
Implications: These results point out the usefulness of employing proteomics as a tool for the discovery of early biomarkers of exposure to environmental chemicals. Theoretically, similar analyses could be performed to identify susceptible individuals or could be a diagnostic tool for discovering the cause of disease. The study also sheds light on the possible mechanisms of the immunosuppressive effects of benzene.
Citation: Vermeulen R, Lan Q, Zhang L, Gunn L, McCarthy D, Woodbury RL, McGuire M, Podust VN, Li G, Chatterjee N, Mu R, Yin S, Rothman N, Smith MT. Decreased levels of CXC-chemokines in serum of benzene-exposed workers identified by array-based proteomics. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2005 Nov 22;102(47):17041-6.