Genotoxicity of pesticides: A review of human biomonitoring studies

Claudia Bolognesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Pesticides constitute a heterogeneous category of chemicals specifically designed for the control of pests, weeds or plant diseases. Pesticides have been considered potential chemical mutagens: experimental data revealed that various agrochemical ingredients possess mutagenic properties inducing mutations, chromosomal alterations or DNA damage. Biological monitoring provides a useful tool to estimate the genetic risk deriving from an integrated exposure to a complex mixture of chemicals. Studies available in scientific literature have essentially focused on cytogenetic end-points to evaluate the potential genotoxicity of pesticides in occupationally exposed populations, including pesticide manufacturing workers, pesticide applicators, floriculturists and farm workers. A positive association between occupational exposure to complex pesticide mixtures and the presence of chromosomal aberrations (CA), sister-chromatid exchanges (SCE) and micronuclei (MN) has been detected in the majority of the studies, although a number of these failed to detect cytogenetic damage. Conflicting results from cytogenetic studies reflect the heterogeneity of the groups studied with regard to chemicals used and exposure conditions. Genetic damage associated with pesticides occurs in human populations subject to high exposure levels due to intensive use, misuse or failure of control measures. The majority of studies on cytogenetic biomarkers in pesticide-exposed workers have indicated some dose-dependent effects, with increasing duration or intensity of exposure. Chromosomal damage induced by pesticides appears to have been transient in acute or discontinuous exposure, but cumulative in continuous exposure to complex agrochemical mixtures. Data available at present on the effect of genetic polymorphism on susceptibility to pesticides does not allow any conclusion.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)251-272
Number of pages22
JournalMutation Research - Reviews in Mutation Research
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2003


  • Biomonitoring
  • Cytogenetic studies
  • Genotoxic risk
  • Pesticides

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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