• Article

Biological markers of intermediate outcomes in studies of indoor air and other complex mixtures

Biological markers of intermediate health outcomes sometimes provide a superior alternative to traditional measures of pollutant-related disease. Some opportunities and methodologic issues associated with using markers are discussed in the context of exposures to four complex mixtures: environmental tobacco smoke and nitrogen dioxide, acid aerosols and oxidant outdoor pollution, environmental tobacco smoke and radon, and volatile organic compounds. For markers of intermediate health outcomes, the most important property is the positive predictive value for clinical outcomes of interest. Unless the marker has a known relationship with disease, a marker response conveys no information about disease risk. Most markers are nonspecific in that various exposures cause the same marker response. Although nonspecificity can be an asset in studies of complex mixtures, it leads to problems with confounding and dilution of exposure-response associations in the presence of other exposures. The timing of a marker's measurement in relation to the occurrence of exposure influences the ability to detect a response; measurements made too early or too late may underestimate the response's magnitude. Noninvasive markers, such as those measured in urine, blood, or nasal lavage fluid, are generally more useful for field studies than are invasive markers. However, invasive markers, such as those measured in bronchoalveolar lavage fluid or lung specimens from autopsies, provide the most direct evidence of pulmonary damage from exposure to air pollutants. Unfortunately, the lack of basic information about marker properties (e.g., sensitivity, variability, statistical link with disease) currently precludes the effective use of most markers in studies of complex mixtures


Wilcosky, T. (1993). Biological markers of intermediate outcomes in studies of indoor air and other complex mixtures. Environmental Health Perspectives, 101(Suppl 4), 193-197.