Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are generated by the incomplete combustion of carbon. Exposures correlate with systemic immune dysfunction and overall immune suppression. Real-world exposures to PAHs are almost always encountered as mixtures; however, research overwhelmingly centers on isolated exposures to a single PAH, benzo[a]pyrene (B[a]P). Here, a human monocyte line (U937) was exposed to B[a]P, benz[a]anthracene (B[a]A), or a mixture of six PAHs (6-MIX) to assess the differential toxicity on monocytes. Further, monocytes were exposed to PAHs with and without CYP1A1 inhibitors during macrophage differentiation to delineate PAH exposure and PAH metabolism-driven alterations to the immune response. U937 monocytes exposed to B[a]P, B[a]A, or 6-MIX had higher levels of cellular health and growth not observed following equimolar exposures to other individual PAHs. PAH exposures during differentiation did not alter monocyte-derived macrophage (MDM) numbers; however, B[a]A and 6-MIX exposures significantly altered M1/M2 polarization in a CYP1A1-dependent manner. U937-MDM adherence was differentially suppressed by all three PAH treatments with 6-MIX exposed U937-MDM having significantly more adhesion than U937-MDM exposed to either individual PAH. Finally, 6-MIX exposures during differentiation reduced U937-MDM endocytic function significantly less than B[a]A exposed cells. Exposure to a unique PAH mixture during U937-MDM differentiation resulted in mixture-specific alterations of pro-inflammatory markers compared to individual PAH exposures. While subtle, these differences highlight the probability that using a model PAH, B[a]P, may not accurately reflect the effects of PAH mixture exposures. Therefore, future studies should include various PAH mixtures that encompass probable real-world PAH exposures for the endpoints under investigation.
J Appl Toxicol. 2021 Feb 8. doi: 10.1002/jat.4147. Online ahead of print.