Trace elements, peripheral blood film, and gene expression status in adolescents living near an industrial area in the Colombian Caribbean Coastline

Trace elements comprise both nutritionally essential and non-essential, and their presence in organisms plays important role in human health.

The aim of this study was to evaluate the levels of trace elements, together with cellular and molecular biomarkers, in adolescents from Tierrabomba Island, a Caribbean community located near an industrial area, comparing them with a group living in San Onofre, a reference community.

Hair and blood samples were obtained from 238 individuals aged 11–18 years old, 131 from Tierrabomba Island and 107 from San Onofre. Trace elements were quantified in hair using ICP-MS. The hematological evaluation was done by peripheral blood smears, and gene expression analysis was carried out through RT-PCR.

Thirteen elements were analyzed; eight showed significant differences between sites. In Tierrabomba, arsenic (As) and tungsten (W) registered mean values greater than in San Onofre. In contrast, in the reference site, average values for boron (B), cobalt (Co), zinc (Zn), yttrium (Y), tin (Sn), and barium (Ba) were greater. The peripheral blood film showed differences between populations. Mean lymphocyte percentage was higher in the Island, while eosinophil and monocyte percentages displayed greater means in San Onofre. Some correlations between trace elements and hematological parameters were found, mainly with platelets in Tierrabomba. This trend remained even when partial correlation coefficients were adjusted for age. Levels of gene expression of metallothionein 1X (MT1X) and superoxide dismutase (SOD) registered significant differences between sites, being greater in Tierrabomba. Negative correlations between SOD and As were observed in both sampling sites. Discriminant analysis suggested sampling locations could be differentiated by Zn, Mo, Ba, and MT1X levels.

Trace elements and the relative gene expression associated with metal exposure are critical exposure biomarkers for coastal communities.