Exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and the thyroid gland – examining and discussing possible longitudinal health effects in humans

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Many previous studies have dealt with the effect of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the thyroid gland, but their findings are inconsistent. One problem of these studies has been their use of cross-sectional designs.


The aim of the current study is to investigate longitudinal effects of PCBs on the thyroid gland, focusing on: morphological changes in thyroid tissue (i.e. thyroid volume), changes in thyroid hormones and in thyroid antibodies.


A total of 122 individuals (Mage=44.7) were examined over a period of four years (t1 until t4). Medical history was collected via interviews, an ultrasound examination was performed and blood samples were taken to determine plasma PCB levels, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), free triiodthyronine (fT3), free thyroxine (fT4), thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPOab), thyreoglobulin antibodies (TGab) and thyroid-stimulating hormone receptor antibodies (TSHRab). Rank correlation coefficients and mixed effect models were performed controlling for age and total lipids.


There were negative correlations between higher chlorinated biphenyls and fT3, cross-sectionally as well as longitudinally. We also found an interaction effect of higher-chlorinated PCBs over time for fT4 as well as TSHRab. In case of high exposure, a decrease in fT4 and an increase in TSHRab level were found over time. In regards to the other variables, our findings yielded no clear results in the examined time period.


This is the first study to shows a PCB-related effect on fT3, fT4 and TSHRab over a four year period. The data also suggest that morphological and antibody findings remain inconsistent and do not allow for unambiguous interpretation.

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