BACKGROUND: Persulfate salts have been associated with both allergic contact dermatitis and bronchial asthma. Because there is currently no experimental data available on the sensitizing properties of persulfate salts (ammonium, sodium, and potassium persulfates), we determined their dermal sensitizing capacity, using the murine local lymph node assay (LLNA). MATERIAL AND METHODS: For three consecutive days, BALB/c mice were dermally treated with ammonium, sodium, or potassium persulfate or with the vehicle alone (dimethyl sulfoxide) on each ear (2 x 25 microl). On D6, mice were injected intravenously with [(3)H]-methyl thymidine. The draining auricular lymph nodes were removed, and the incorporation of [(3)H]-methyl thymidine was compared with that of vehicle-treated control mice. A stimulation index (SI) relative to the vehicle-treated control value was derived. The sensitizing potency of the chemicals tested was determined by estimating the concentration of chemical required to induce a SI of 3 (EC3). RESULTS: All three chemicals provoked positive responses in the LLNA, with dose-dependent increases in proliferation. Maximal SIs recorded were 6.8 +/- 1.8, 6.5 +/- 1.2, and 5 +/- 1.0 at 5% for ammonium, sodium or potassium persulfate, respectively. The EC3 values were 1.9%, 0.9%, and 2.4% for ammonium, sodium, and potassium persulfates, respectively. CONCLUSIONS: All three persulfate salts need to be considered strong-to-moderate sensitizers according to the murine LLNA.