Is inhalation exposure to formaldehyde a biologically plausible cause of lymphohematopoietic malignancies?

David Pyatt, Ethan Natelson, Robert Golden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently proposed a hypothetical mode of action (MOA) to explain how inhaled formaldehyde (FA) might induce leukemia, lymphoma and a variety of other lymphohematopoietic (LHP) malignancies in occupationally exposed workers. The central hypothesis requires that B lymphocytes or hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPC) present at the "portal of entry (POE)" undergo sustained mutagenic change as a result of direct FA exposure. These modified cells would then migrate back to the bone marrow or primary lymphatic tissue and subsequently develop into specific LHP disease states. Chemical interaction at the POE is an absolute requirement for the hypothesized MOA as there is no convincing evidence that inhaled FA causes distant site (e.g., bone marrow) toxicity. The purpose of this review is to critically evaluate this proposed MOA within the context of the existing data concerning the toxicokinetic and biological properties of FA, the current understanding of the induction of chemically-induced leukemias and lymphomas, as well as within EPA's specific guidelines for evaluating the MOA of chemically-induced cancers. Specifically, we examine the scientific support for the hypothesis that FA exposure may induce carcinogenic transformation of localized lymphocytes or peripheral hematopoietic progenitor cells (HPC) in the absence of discernable systemic hematopoietic toxicity (i.e., peripheral transformation). While little or no empirical evidence exists upon which to fully evaluate the proposed hypothesis, available data does not support the proposed concept of "peripheral transformation" at the chemical entry site. Numerous animal bioassays evaluating chronic inhalation of FA clearly do not support this hypothesis since no properly conducted study as ever shown an increase in any LHP malignancy. Moreover, the notion that FA can cause any LHP malignancy is not supported with either epidemiologic data or current understanding of differing etiologies and risk factors for the various hematopoietic and lymphoproliferative malignancies. It is therefore concluded that existing science does not support the proposed MOA as a logical explanation for proposing that FA is a realistic etiological factor for any LHP malignancy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)119-133
Number of pages15
JournalRegulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jun 2008


  • Formaldehyde
  • Leukemia
  • Leukemogenesis
  • Lymphohematopoietic
  • Lymphohematopoietic malignancies
  • Lymphoma
  • Lymphomagenesis
  • Mode of action

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology


Dive into the research topics of 'Is inhalation exposure to formaldehyde a biologically plausible cause of lymphohematopoietic malignancies?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this