Implementation of effect biomarkers in human biomonitoring studies: A systematic approach synergizing toxicological and epidemiological knowledge

Andrea Rodríguez-Carrillo, Vicente Mustieles, Elena Salamanca-Fernández, Alicia Olivas-Martínez, Beatriz Suárez, Lola Bajard, Kirsten Baken, Ludek Blaha, Eva Cecilie Bonefeld-Jørgensen, Stephan Couderq, Shereen Cynthia D'Cruz, Jean Baptiste Fini, Eva Govarts, Claudia Gundacker, Antonio F. Hernández, Marina Lacasaña, Federica Laguzzi, Birgitte Linderman, Manhai Long, Henriqueta LouroChristiana Neophytou, Axel Oberemn, Sylvie Remy, Anna Kjerstine Rosenmai, Anne Thoustrup Saber, Greet Schoeters, Maria Joao Silva, Fatima Smagulova, Maria Uhl, Anne Marie Vinggaard, Ulla Vogel, Maria Wielsøe, Nicolás Olea, Mariana F. Fernández

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Human biomonitoring (HBM) studies have highlighted widespread daily exposure to environmental chemicals. Some of these are suspected to contribute to adverse health outcomes such as reproductive, neurological, and metabolic disorders, among other developmental and chronic impairments. One of the objectives of the H2020 European Human Biomonitoring Initiative (HBM4EU) was the development of informative effect biomarkers for application in a more systematic and harmonized way in large-scale European HBM studies. The inclusion of effect biomarkers would complement exposure data with mechanistically-based information on early and late adverse effects. For this purpose, a stepwise strategy was developed to identify and implement a panel of validated effect biomarkers in European HBM studies. This work offers an overview of the complete procedure followed, from comprehensive literature search strategies, selection of criteria for effect biomarkers and their classification and prioritization, based on toxicological data and adverse outcomes, to pilot studies for their analytical, physiological, and epidemiological validation. We present the example of one study that demonstrated the mediating role of the effect biomarker status of brain-derived neurotrophic factor BDNF in the longitudinal association between infant bisphenol A (BPA) exposure and behavioral function in adolescence. A panel of effect biomarkers has been implemented in the HBM4EU Aligned Studies as main outcomes, including traditional oxidative stress, reproductive, and thyroid hormone biomarkers. Novel biomarkers of effect, such as DNA methylation status of BDNF and kisspeptin (KISS) genes were also evaluated as molecular markers of neurological and reproductive health, respectively. A panel of effect biomarkers has also been applied in HBM4EU occupational studies, such as micronucleus analysis in lymphocytes and reticulocytes, whole blood comet assay, and malondialdehyde, 8-oxo-2′-deoxyguanosine and untargeted metabolomic profile in urine, to investigate, for example, biological changes in response to hexavalent chromium Cr(VI) exposure. The use of effect biomarkers in HBM4EU has demonstrated their ability to detect early biological effects of chemical exposure and to identify subgroups that are at higher risk. The roadmap developed in HBM4EU confirms the utility of effect biomarkers, and support one of the main objectives of HBM research, which is to link exposure biomarkers to mechanistically validated effect and susceptibility biomarkers in order to better understand the public health implications of human exposure to environmental chemicals.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114140
JournalInternational Journal Of Hygiene And Environmental Health
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023


  • Biomarkers
  • Effect biomarkers
  • Environmental chemicals
  • HBM4EU
  • Human biomonitoring programs
  • Occupational chemicals


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