Assessment of biotransformation of the arene moiety of styrene in volunteers and occupationally exposed workers

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Styrene is a chemical widely used in the plastic industry. The main pathway of styrene metabolism in humans occurs via the oxidation to styrene-7,8-oxide (7,8-SO). The aim of this study was the investigation of a minor metabolic route, involving the oxidation of the arene moiety of styrene, by means of the characterization of the conjugated urinary metabolites of 4-vinylphenol (4-VP). 4-vinylphenol-glucuronide (4-VP-G) and -sulfate (4-VP-S), were measured by liquid chromatography electrospray tandem mass spectrometry (LC–ESI–MS/MS) from 174 workers belonging to three cohorts recruited in European countries and from 26 volunteers exposed to 50 mg/m3 (11.8 ppm) of styrene for 8 h. The 4-VP conjugates represented about 0.5–1% of the total excretion of styrene metabolites. Both 4-VP-G and 4-VP-S are eliminated with a monophasic kinetic, the glucuronide being excreted faster (half-time, 2.2 ± 0.2 h) than the sulfate (half-time 9.7 ± 1.7 h). The urinary 4-VP was found to be significantly correlated both with airborne styrene (r = 0.607, p < 0.001) and the sum of MA and PGA (r = 0.903, p < 0.001 in “end-of-shift” samples). Apart from 7,8-SO, 4-VP is the only styrene metabolite not shared with ethylbenzene and therefore thought to be a highly specific marker of styrene exposure. However, a measurable background excretion of 4-VP was also found in all urine samples from controls not occupationally exposed to styrene. This background appears to be highly correlated to smoking (p < 0.001) and possibly also to the dietary intake of styrene or 4-VP. Consequently, the use of 4-VP as a biomarker of styrene exposure is recommended for exposures exceeding 1 ppm.

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