Reasons for the highly variable and often poor protection conferred by the Mycobacterium bovis bacille Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine are multifaceted and poorly understood.
We aimed to determine whether early-life exposure to PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and DDE [1,1-dichloro-2,2-bis(p-chlorophenyl)ethylene] reduces 6-month infant BCG vaccine response.
Data came from families participating in a prospective birth cohort in eastern Slovakia. At birth, maternal and cord blood were collected for chemical analyses, and infants were immunized with BCG. Blood was collected from infants for chemical analyses and to determine 6-month BCG-specific immunoglobulin (Ig) G and IgA levels. Multivariable linear regression models were fit to examine chemical–BCG associations among approximately 500 mother–infant pairs, with adjustment for confounders.
The median 6-month infant concentration of the prevalent congener PCB-153 was 113 ng/g lipid [interquartile range (IQR): 37–248], and 388 ng/g lipid (IQR: 115–847) for DDE. Higher 6-month infant concentrations of PCB-153 and DDE were strongly associated with lower 6-month BCG-specific antibody levels. For instance, BCG-specific IgG levels were 37% lower for infants with PCB-153 concentrations at the 75th percentile compared to the 25th percentile (95% CI: –42, –32; p < 0.001). Results were similar in magnitude and precision for DDE. There was also evidence of PCB–DDE additivity, where exposure to both compounds reduced anti-BCG levels more than exposure to either compound alone.
The associations observed in this study indicate that environmental exposures may be overlooked contributors to poorer responses to BCG vaccine. The overall association between these exposures and tuberculosis incidence is unknown.
Jusko TA, De Roos AJ, Lee SY, Thevenet-Morrison K, Schwartz SM, Verner MA, Palkovicova Murinova L, Drobná B, Kočan A, Fabišiková A, Čonka K, Trnovec T, Hertz-Picciotto I, Lawrence BP. 2016. A birth cohort study of maternal and infant serum PCB-153 and DDE concentrations and responses to infant tuberculosis vaccination. Environ Health Perspect 124:813–821; http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1510101