Ochratoxin A, a naturally occurring mycotoxin, has recently been shown to cause renal and hepatic carcinomas in mice. In the present studies, the effects of ochratoxin A on immune mechanisms associated with tumor resistance were examined in mice using dose levels similar to those that cause neoplasia. Ochratoxin A was shown to specifically inhibit natural killer (NK) cell activity and increase the growth of transplantable tumor cells without altering T-cell- or macrophage-mediated antitumor activity. In contrast, ochratoxin B, a much less toxic ochratoxin, did not influence immune function. Polyinosinic:polycytidylic induced interferon was markedly reduced in mice following exposure to ochratoxin A although total serum protein levels were slightly increased. Injection of polyinosinic:polycytidylic enhanced NK activity in the presence of ochratoxin A, although the level of enhancement was slightly lower than that produced by the agent in the absence of ochratoxin A. Thus, ochratoxin appears to suppress NK cell activity by inhibiting production of basal interferon. Additionally, these findings suggest a possible role for altered NK cell function in the development of mycotoxin-induced carcinogenesis.

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