Occupational exposure to formaldehyde and alterations in lymphocyte subsets

H. Dean Hosgood, Luoping Zhang, Xiaojiang Tang, Roel Vermeulen, Zhenyue Hao, Min Shen, Chuangyi Qiu, Yichen Ge, Ming Hua, Zhiying Ji, Senhua Li, Jun Xiong, Boris Reiss, Songwang Liu, Kerry X. Xin, Mariko Azuma, Yuxuan Xie, Laura Beane Freeman, Xiaolin Ruan, Weihong GuoNoe Galvan, Aaron Blair, Laiyu Li, Hanlin Huang, Martyn T. Smith, Nathaniel Rothman, Qing Lan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


Background: Formaldehyde is used in many occupational settings, most notably in manufacturing, health care, and embalming. Formaldehyde has been classified as a human carcinogen, but its mechanism of action remains uncertain. Methods: We carried out a cross-sectional study of 43 formaldehyde-exposed workers and 51 unexposed age and sex-matched controls in Guangdong, China to study formaldehyde's early biologic effects. To follow up our previous report that the total lymphocyte count was decreased in formaldehyde-exposed workers compared with controls, we evaluated each major lymphocyte subset (i.e., CD4+ T cells, CD8+ T cells, natural killer [NK] cells, and B cells) and T cell lymphocyte subset (CD4+ naïve and memory T cells, CD8+ naïve and memory T cells, and regulatory T cells). Linear regression of each subset was used to test for differences between exposed workers and controls, adjusting for potential confounders. Results: Total NK cell and T cell counts were about 24% (P=0.037) and 16% (P=0.0042) lower, respectively, among exposed workers. Among certain T cell subsets, decreased counts among exposed workers were observed for CD8+ T cells (P=0.026), CD8+ effector memory T cells (P=0.018), and regulatory T cells (CD4+FoxP3+: P=0.04; CD25+FoxP3+: P=0.008). Conclusions: Formaldehyde-exposed workers experienced decreased counts of NK cells, regulatory T cells, and CD8+ effector memory T cells; however, due to the small sample size; these findings need to be confirmed in larger studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)252-257
Number of pages6
JournalAmerican Journal of Industrial Medicine
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • B cell
  • Formaldehyde
  • NK cell
  • T cell
  • T cell subset

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health


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