Pulmonary diseases attributable to asbestos exposure constitute a significant public health burden, yet few studies have investigated potential genetic determinants of susceptibility to asbestos-related diseases. The glutathione-S-transferases are a family of conjugating enzymes that both catalyze the detoxification of a variety of potentially cytotoxic electrophilic agents and act in the generation of sulfadipeptide leukotriene inflammatory mediators. The gene encoding glutathione-S-transferase class mu (GSTM-1) is polymorphic; approximately 50% of Caucasian individuals have a homozygous deletion of this gene and do not produce functional enzyme. Glutathione-S-transferase mu (GST-mu) deficiency has been previously reported to be associated with smoking-induced lung cancer. We conducted a cross-sectional study to examine the prevalence of the homozygous deletion for the GSTM-1 gene in members of the carpentry trade occupationally exposed to asbestos. Members of the United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners of America attending their 1991 National Union conference were invited to participate. Each participant was offered a chest X-ray and was asked to complete a comprehensive questionnaire and have their blood drawn. All radiographs were assessed for the presence of pneumoconiosis in a blinded fashion by a National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health-certified International Labor Office "B" reader. Individual GSTM-1 status was determined using polymerase chain reaction methods. Six hundred fifty-eight workers were studied. Of these, 80 (12.2%) had X-ray abnormalities associated with asbestos exposure. Individuals genetically deficient in GST-mu were significantly more likely to have radiographic evidence of nonmalignant asbestos-related disease than those who were not deficient (chi 2 = 5.0; P < 0.03).(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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