Expression of the metallothionein (MT) gene in frozen human lymphocytes has been developed as a new molecular biomarker of heavy metal exposure. Workers at a Polish battery factory with high exposure to cadmium were monitored for airborne exposure and blood cadmium levels. A novel quantitative reverse transcription-PCR (RT-PCR) technique, making use of a homologous internal standard, was used to assess the level of MT-specific mRNA in frozen stored aliquots of blood samples taken from exposed and control workers. Results from this assay showed a statistically significant 2.5-fold increase in MT mRNA in exposed compared to control workers. The RT-PCR results also showed significant correlation with airborne cadmium, as registered on personal monitors and with blood cadmium levels. The results suggest that gene induction measured by quantitative RT-PCR is a promising approach for application as a biomarker of biologically effective dose in small samples of frozen tissues or cells.

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