Immunosuppressive effects of DES exposure

Immunotoxic effects of diethylstilbestrol on host resistance: comparison with cyclophosphamide, 1984


To evaluate the usefulness of host resistance assays for measurement of immunotoxicologic effects of chemicals, the immunosuppressive effects of exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) were compared with the effects of treatment with the known immunosuppressive drug cyclophosphamide (CPS).

A panel of six host resistance models was evaluated, including

  • infection with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes,
  • herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2),
  • and encephalomyocarditis virus (EMC),
  • the yeast Cryptococcus neoformans,
  • the parasite Naegleria fowleri,
  • and transplantation of the B16F10 melanoma tumor.

The results demonstrate a general correlation between the effects of CPS and DES on host resistance. Acute treatment with CPS (200 mg/kg) markedly depressed resistance to the microbial infections with L. monocytogenes and HSV, and exposure to DES usually also decreased resistance in a dose dependent manner. Moreover, CPS had no marked effect on resistance to N. fowleri and EMC virus, and exposure to DES also had a neglible or slight effect. There were, however, two model systems in which the effects of CPS and DES diverged. Whereas treatment with DES produced no significant effect on resistance to C. neoformans, acute treatment with CPS prior to the fungal infection produced a marked increase in resistance. Also, while treatment with CPS markedly increased B16F10 lung metastases, treatment with DES significantly decreased the incidence and number of lung metastases.

The data support the general validity of host resistance assays, particularly with models of short disease course, for measuring immunosuppression. However, the results also emphasize the complexity of interpreting effects of environmental chemicals on host resistance, because of the interplay of such factors as relative times of exposure to the chemical in relation to pathogenesis of infection, the length of the disease course, the nature of the operative host defense mechanisms, and the compensatory recovery of these mechanisms.


  • Immunotoxic effects of diethylstilbestrol on host resistance: comparison with cyclophosphamide, Journal of leukocyte biology, NCBI PubMed, PMID: 6323603, 1984.
  • Featured image vanderbilt edu.

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