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Abstract for IMM95002

Immunotoxicity of Meta-nitrotoluene in Female B6C3F1 Mice

CASRN: 99-08-1
Chemical Formula: C7H7NO2
Molecular Weight: 137.137
Report Date: October 1994


The following abstract presents results of a study conducted by a contract laboratory for the National Toxicology Program. The findings have not been peer reviewed and were not evaluated in accordance with the levels of evidence criteria established by NTP in March 2009. The findings and conclusions for this study should not be construed to represent the views of the NTP or the U.S. Government.

The mono-nitrotoluenes are synthesized by the nitration of toluene. Meta-nitrotoluene (m-nitrotoluene) is a clear, yellow liquid at ambient temperature. The mono-nitrotoluenes are slightly soluble in aqueous solution but are readily soluble in organic solvents. The nitrotoluenes have been detected in air, water, and soil.1, 2 Meta- and para-nitrotoluene (p-nitrotoluene) have been identified by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) for detail study. M-nitrotoluene was the second mono-nitrotoluene to be investigated for its potential adverse actions on the immune system.

The objective of the studies reported here was to determine the potential immunotoxicity of m-nitrotoluene in mice exposed by the oral route. The studies were divided into three areas: the more standard toxicology studies provided the base against which to compare the immunology studies; the immunology studies provided data on specific cellular targets of the xenobiotic; and the host resistance studies were used for a global assessment of the ability of the exposed animal to resist pathogenic challenge.

Executive Summary Table 1 (ES-1) shows a summary of the standard toxicology studies. Mice exposed to m-nitrotoluene by gastric gavage gained body weight over the 2 week experimental period to a slightly greater extent than the control groups. Of the selected organs weighed, the liver and kidney of mice exposed to m-nitrotoluene were increased in weight while the thymus weight was decreased. The liver of mice exposed to m-nitrotoluene, but not ortho-nitrotoluene (o-nitrotoluene), showed slight to moderate swelling of the hepatocytes adjacent to the central veins. The hepatocyte swelling appeared to be reversible and there was no evidence of necrosis. The selected hematological and serum chemistries were unaffected by m-nitrotoluene exposure. Bone marrow cellularity and the number of CFU/M and CFU/GM were unaffected by m-nitrotoluene exposure.

Executive Summary Table 2 (ES-2) summarizes the immunology studies of mice exposed to m-nitrotoluene. M-nitrotoluene suppressed the IgM response to sRBC and the DHR response to KLH. There was a slight (13%) decrease in the percentage of T lymphocytes in the spleen. The response to the T cell mitogens was suppressed by as much as 39.2%. FC mediated adherence and phagocytosis of chicken erythrocytes were increased dose-dependently in mice exposed to m-nitrotoluene. All of the other immune parameters were unaffected by exposure to m-nitrotoluene. These parameters included natural killer cell activity, response to mitogens and allogeneic cells, and serum complement and interferon levels.

Executive Summary Table 3 (ES-3) summarizes the host resistance studies in mice exposed to m-nitrotoluene. Exposure of mice to m-nitrotoluene decreased resistance to Listeria monocytogenes. The decreased resistance to Listeria monocytogenes may be related to the decrease in the DHR to KLH. Resistance to Streptococcus pneumoniae and Plasmodium yoelii were unaffected. Resistance to the two tumor models the PYB6 tumor and the B16F10 melanoma was increased.

The three phases of these studies indicate that the liver and, to an equal or greater extent, the immune system are a target for toxicity of m-nitrotoluene. The decreased host resistance to Listeria monocytogenes can be attributed to the decrease in T lymphocytes and, as seen in the number and activity as expressed, to the decreased delayed hypersensitivity response to Keyhole limpet hemocyanin. The decrease in IgM response did not correlate with a host resistance model, most likely because no effect was seen on the IgG response. The increased resistance seen in the tumor models may be related to the increased macrophage activity; i.e., increase ectoenzyme activity and increased FC mediated adherence of chicken erythrocytes.

With the completion of the studies on m-nitrotoluene, three mono-nitrotoluenes were investigated. O-nitrotoluene was used as a comparative control with the dose-response studies on m-nitrotoluene, and p-nitrotoluene was evaluated previously. Meta- and para-nitrotoluene produced greater actions on the immune system than ortho-nitrotoluene. Humoral and cell mediated immunity were affected. Figure ES-1 below shows the structure activity of the three isomers for one humoral immune response to the T-dependent antigen sheep erythrocytes. The delayed hypersensitivity response to Keyhole limpet hemocyanin was suppressed with m- and p-nitrotoluene. All three isomers produced a state of decreased resistance to Listeria monocytogenes.Because these actions were at doses which produced no overt toxicity and only minor actions on the liver, the immune system for the mono-nitrotoluenes must be considered an important target which is at least as equivalent as the liver and the central nervous system. 

The studies were conducted at the Medical College of Virginia Immunotoxicology Program under NTP Contract No. ES 55094. The in-life phase of the studies was conducted between 7 January 1987 and 3 July 1987. The animals were housed in the animal facility of the Strauss building.


1Pellizzari, E.D. (1978): Quantitation of Chlorinated Hydrocarbons in Previously Collected Air Samples. EPA 450/3-78-112.
2Howard, P.H., Santodonato, J., Saxena, J., Malling, J., and Greninger, D. (1976): Investigation of Selected Potential Environmental Contaminants: Nitroaromatics. U.S. EPA, RTP, NC. p.1407 EPA 560/2-76-010.


Figure ES-1
Structure Activity of Mono-nitrotoluenes

Structure activity chart

Table ES-1
Summary Table for Toxicology Studies
Parameter Result Maximum Effect Dose Comment
Periodic Weights Increase in weight gain 26% (weight gain) 600 mg/kg


Gross Pathology None




Histopathology Moderate to mild swelling of hepatocytes


400 mg/kg


Organ Weights






Increased 27% 600 mg/kg



No Effect





No Effect





Decreased 18% 600 mg/kg



Increased 11% 600 mg/kg



No Effect










No effect





Increased 49% 600 mg/kg



No Effect




Leukocyte Diff






No Effect





No Effect




Serum Chemistries






No Effect





No Effect





No Effect





No Effect




Total Protein

No Effect



Bone Marrow






No effect




DNA Synthesis

No Effect




Stem Cells






No Effect





No Effect




Table ES-2
Summary Table for Immunology Studies
Parameter Results Maximum Effect Dose Dependent

T Cells

No Effect



B Cells

Decreased 8.3%







Decreased 30% Yes


No Effect








Decreased 43% Yes









       Con A

No Effect




Decreased 39.2% Yes


No Effect




No Effect








No Effect







NK Cell Activity

No Effect







Serum Complement





No Effect  



Increased 7% Yes





Macrophage (RES)

Spleen phagocytosis decreased dose dependently (did not reach significance; all other parameters were unaffected)



Macrophage (Peritoneal)




       Cell #

No Effect  







No Effect



       &nbsp Poly's

No Effect  



No Effect  


     Phagocytosis Covaspheres

No Effect  


     Phagocytosis cRBC

No Effect


Dose dependent increase

     Adherence of cRBC

Increased 92% Yes


DNA content of macrophages decreased altering specific activities ectoenzymes and b Glucuronidase




No effect based on total activity




No effect based on total activity




No effect based on total activity



       b Glucuronidase

No effect based on total activity



Table ES-3
Summary Table for Host Resistance Studies
Model Result Maximum Effect Dose Comment

Listeria monocytogenes

Decreased resistance

70% increase in mortality

600 mg/kg


Streptococcus pneumoniae

No effect





Increased resistence

Decreased tumor incidence




Decreased resistance

39.3% decrease in pulmonary burden

600 mg/kg


Plasmodium yoelii

No effect