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Open Access Research article

Sub-chronic lung inflammation after airway exposures to Bacillus thuringiensis biopesticides in mice

Kenneth K Barfod12, Steen S Poulsen3, Maria Hammer1 and Søren T Larsen1*

Author Affiliations

1 National Research Centre for the Working Environment, Copenhagen, Denmark

2 Statens Serum Institut, Copenhagen Denmark

3 Department of Biomedical Research, The Panum Institute, University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark

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BMC Microbiology 2010, 10:233  doi:10.1186/1471-2180-10-233

Published: 3 September 2010

Abstract

Background

The aim of the present study was to assess possible health effects of airway exposures to Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) based biopesticides in mice. Endpoints were lung inflammation evaluated by presence of inflammatory cells in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid (BALF), clearance of bacteria from the lung lumen and histological alterations of the lungs. Hazard identifications of the biopesticides were carried out using intratracheal (i.t.) instillation, followed by an inhalation study. The two commercial biopesticides used were based on the Bt. subspecies kurstaki and israelensis, respectively. Groups of BALB/c mice were i.t instilled with one bolus (3.5 × 105 or 3.4 × 106 colony forming units (CFU) per mouse) of either biopesticide. Control mice were instilled with sterile water. BALFs were collected and the inflammatory cells were counted and differentiated. The BALFs were also subjected to CFU counts.

Results

BALF cytology showed an acute inflammatory response dominated by neutrophils 24 hours after instillation of biopesticide. Four days after instillation, the neutrophil number was normalised and inflammation was dominated by lymphocytes and eosinophils, whereas 70 days after instillation, the inflammation was interstitially located with few inflammatory cells present in the lung lumen.

Half of the instilled mice had remaining CFU recovered from BALF 70 days after exposure. To gain further knowledge with relevance for risk assessment, mice were exposed to aerosols of biopesticide one hour per day for 2 × 5 days. Each mouse received 1.9 × 104 CFU Bt israelensis or 2.3 × 103 CFU Bt kurstaki per exposure. Seventy days after end of the aerosol exposures, 3 out of 17 mice had interstitial lung inflammation. CFU could be recovered from 1 out of 10 mice 70 days after exposure to aerosolised Bt kurstaki. Plethysmography showed that inhalation of Bt aerosol did not induce airway irritation.

Conclusions

Repeated low dose aerosol exposures to commercial Bt based biopesticides can induce sub-chronic lung inflammation in mice, which may be the first step in the development of chronic lung diseases. Inhalation of Bt aerosols does not induce airway irritation, which could explain why workers may be less inclined to use a filter mask during the application process, and are thereby less protected from exposure to Bt spores.