Early genotoxic damage through micronucleus test in exfoliated buccal cells and occupational dust exposure in construction workers: a cross-sectional study in L’Aquila, Italy


Aim: The city of L’Aquila (central Italy) was hit by a strong earthquake in 2009 that caused the collapse of several buildings, deaths and injured people. In the following years, a great number of building sites were activated, building workers resulted intensely exposed and represent a relevant target for research on environmental mutagenesis and epidemiological surveillance. Cells of buccal mucosa are considered an appropriate site for early detecting of cytogenetic damage, since it represents the first barrier in inhalation or ingestion and can metabolize carcinogenic agents into reactive chemicals. Our study is aimed 1) at comparing the early genotoxic damage as measured by the buccal mucosa micronucleus test in two subgroups of workers defined by different occupational exposure and 2) at evaluating possible confounding variables such as lifestyle factors.

Methods and results: A cross-sectional study was conducted in L’Aquila, on 24 outdoor workers (OWs) highly exposed on the construction sites and 26 indoor workers (IWs), all subjected to the compulsory occupational surveillance system, in the period 2017-2018. Buccal cells samples were collected and, based on the Micronucleus test, the exfoliated cells were classified in respect of nuclear changes observed. Moreover, a self-report questionnaire composed of 84 items, was administered to the workers.

Results: Significant differences were observed between Exp+ (OWs) and Exp- (IWs) in the number of the analyzed cells (expressed as mean value out of 1000 cells): respectively 954.46 vs 990.06 normal cells, (p < 0.001); 19.79 vs 4.95 micronucleated cells, as marker of chromosomal damage (p < 0.001); 13.93 vs 8.96 binucleated cells, as marker of failed cytokinesis (p < 0.001); 2.09 vs 1.18 karyolytic cells, as marker of cell death and damaged DNA (p < 0.05). According with a multivariate regression analysis, in addition to the job exposure (OW vs IW, beta = 12.221, p < 0.001), the only variable independently associated with an increase in Micronuclei (MNs) is the smoking habit (OWs vs IWs, beta = 6.683, p < 0.001) which, even if not associated with dust exposure, worsens cell integrity. Moreover, this worsening effect is weaker in workers not exposed to the site dust (moderation effect). Within social demographic factors, the high educational level only apparently seems to affect MNs number: even if unbalanced in favor of IWs vs OWs, this variable resulted a confounder, since its effect disappears when the interaction between these two factors is considered, because it is a covariate of smoking habit as well as of the job condition. Conclusion: Despite some limitation, our findings clearly confirm the role of occupational exposure as a marker of cytogenetic damage associated with MNs number in construction workers. Moreover, smoking status appears as the only other investigated factor independently associated to the outcome. The statistical model, in addition, highlights possible moderation and confounding effects, such as interaction between smoking and occupational exposure and the unbalanced school education level in workers. Micronucleus test in exfoliated buccal cells would be considered a suitable method for studying the early genotoxic damage in the construction occupational setting as well as in evaluating the efficacy of preventive practices.

Authors: Sara Leonardi, Anna Mg Poma, Sabrina Colafarina, Francesco D’Aloisio, Maria Scatigna, Osvaldo Zarivi, Riccardo Mastrantonio, Loreta Tobia, Leila Fabiani
; Full Source: Ecotoxicology and environmental safety 2020 Oct 15;203:110989. doi: 10.1016/j.ecoenv.2020.110989.