Exposure to welding fumes suppresses the activity of T-helper cells

Jürgen Knobloch*, Swaantje Casjens, Martin Lehnert, Sarah D. Yanik, Sandra Körber, Anne Lotz, Jan Rupp, Monika Raulf, Wolfgang Zschiesche, Tobias Weiss, Juliane Kronsbein, Andrea Koch, Thomas Brüning, Beate Pesch

*Corresponding author for this work


Welders have an increased susceptibility to airway infections with non-typeable Haemophilus influenzae (NTHi), which implicates immune defects and might promote pneumonia and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). We hypothesized that welding-fume exposure suppresses Th1-lymphocyte activity. Non-effector CD4+ T-cells from blood of 45 welders (n = 23 gas metal arc welders, GMAW; n = 16 tungsten inert gas welders, TIG; n = 6 others) and 25 non-welders were ex vivo activated towards Th1 via polyclonal T-cell receptor stimulation and IL-12 (first activation step) and then stimulated with NTHi extract or lipopolysaccharide (LPS) (second activation step). IFNγ and IL-2 were measured by ELISA. In the first activation step, IFNγ was reduced in welders compared to non-welders and in the GMAW welders with higher concentrations of respirable particles compared to the lower exposed TIG welders. IFNγ was not influenced by tobacco smoking and correlated negatively with welding-fume exposure, respirable manganese, and iron. In the second activation step, NTHi and LPS induced additional IFNγ, which was reduced in current smokers compared to never smokers in welders as well as in non-welders. Analyzing both activation steps together, IFNγ production was lowest in smoking welders and highest in never smoking non-welders. IL-2 was not associated with any of these parameters. Welding-fume exposure might suppress Th1-based immune responses due to effects of particulate matter, which mainly consists of iron and manganese. For responses to NTHi this is strongest in smoking welders because welding fume suppresses T-cell activation towards Th1 and cigarette smoke suppresses the subsequent Th1-response to NTHi via LPS. Both effects are independent from IL-2-regulated T-cell proliferation. This might explain the increased susceptibility to infections and might promote COPD development.

Original languageEnglish
Article number109913
JournalEnvironmental Research
Pages (from-to)109913
Publication statusPublished - 10.2020

Research Areas and Centers

  • Academic Focus: Center for Infection and Inflammation Research (ZIEL)


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