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Tributyltin (TBT) is found in human blood and other tissues and thus is of considerable concern as to its effects on human health. Previous studies have demonstrated that TBT has detrimental effects on immune function. Recently, we found that exposures to TBT caused increased secretion of two important proinflammatory cytokines, tumor necrosis factor alpha (TNFα) and interferon gamma (IFNγ). Elevation of either of these cytokines has the potential to cause chronic inflammation, which is an important factor in a number of diseases including cancer. The current study examined the mechanism of TBT-induced elevations of TNFα and IFNγ secretion and found that the p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway was essential to the ability of TBT to stimulate secretion. Additionally, this study demonstrated that increased secretion of these cytokines was due to TBT-induced increases in their overall synthesis, rather than simply being due to an increase in the release of already formed proteins. The TBT-induced increases in synthesis were evident within 6 hours of exposure. The p38 mitogen-activated protein kinase pathway is also necessary for the TBT-induced increases in both TNFα and IFNγ synthesis. The role of increased transcription of TNFα and IFNγ mRNA in response to TBT exposures as a possible explanation for the increased synthesis of these cytokines was also examined. It was found that increased mRNA levels did not appear to explain fully the increases in either TNFα or IFNγ synthesis. Thus, TBT is able to increase secretion of two important proinflammatory cytokines by increasing their synthesis.

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