Dioxins have been shown to alter the immune system in a wide variety of animals. For example, dietary exposure to PCDDs and PCDFs and coplanar PCBs has been correlated with immunosuppression in field experiments with harbor seals. Dioxin and PCB-mediated immunosuppres-sion is believed to have contributed to the mass mortalities of seals and dolphins in European waters in the late 1980s and early 1990s. PCDDs/Fs are known to cause hypertrophy of the thymus, which is the site of production of mature T-lymphocytes, which are indispensable for the development and maintenance of the T-cell-mediated portion of the immune system. Because dioxins affect maturation and specialization of T-cells, exposure is believed to reduce the organisms' ability to fight off harmful bacteria, viruses, and other substances.
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