1 In this study we hypothesized that in individuals with certain genetic makeup, MTBE, benzene or their metabolites act as adducts and may induce pro grammed cell
death. 2 Our study involved a group of 60 male and female subjects who were exposed
to MTBE and benzene- 5 contaminated water concentrations up to 76 PPB for MTBE and 14 PPB for benzene, for a period of 5 to 8 years. For comparison, we recruited a control group consisting of 32 healthy males and females with similar age distribution and without a history of exposure
to MTBE or benzene. 3 Peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) of both groups were tested for the percentage of apoptotic
cells and cell cycle progression using flow cytometry. 4 When apoptotic lymphocytes from exposed individuals were compared to apoptotic lymphocytes from the control group, statistically-significant differences between each mean group were detected (26.4 ± 1.8 and 12.1 ± 1.3, respectively), indicating an increased rate of apoptosis in 80.5% of exposed individuals ( P<0.0001, Mann-Whitney U-Test). MTBE and ben- a zene-induced apoptosis is attributed to a discrete block within the cell cycle progression. Because cell cycle analysis showed that in PBL from chemically-exposed individuals, between 20-50% of cells were accumu lated at the S-G 2 /M boundaries. One of the signaling molecules which mediates programmed cell death is nuclear factor Kappa-B (NF-kB). NF-kB was examined as one of the many molecular mechanisms for mediating cell death by MTBE and benzene. Indeed, addition of inhibitors of NF-kB activation pyrrolidine dithiocarbamate (PDTC), to the lymphocytes of the chemically-exposed group was capable of inhibiting programmed cell death by 40%. This reversal of apoptosis almost to the control level by inhibitor of NF-kB activation may indicate involvement of this signaling molecule in MTBE and benzene induction of programmed cell death.