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Hoffmann, R. A wiki for the life sciences where authorship matters. Nature Genetics (2008)

International Commission for Protection against Environmental Mutagens and Carcinogens. ICPEMC working paper 2/5: mutagenesis in mammalian cells.

Chemical mutagenesis in animal cells is a complex process. Whereas some chemicals are mutagenic in their original form, others such as the nitrosamines and polycyclic hydrocarbon carcinogens are mutagenic only when enzymatically activated. The active form, or ultimate carcinogen, can interact with proteins and nucleic acids, altering amino acids and producing modified bases in DNA. The modified bases do not usually constitute mutations as produced. Instead they are acted on by the DNA enzymes of the cell, which repair most damaged bases but occasionally insert incorrect base sequences at or near the sites of damage. The frequency at which mutant animal cells are recovered depends upon the selection conditions in culture, upon whether the mutation selected is in a gene present in single or multiple active copies, and upon whether expression is dominant or recessive. Many studies depend on selecting for 8-azaguanine- or 6-thioguanine-resistant mutants, which are due to mutations in the HGPRT locus present in a single active copy on the X-chromosome. Other widely used systems depend on selecting for ouabain resistance, which is dominant and results from a change in the sodium/potassium ATPase activity, or on selecting for thymidine kinase mutants in heterozygous Tk+/Tk- mouse cells. Many other types of mutation including nutritional markers are recessive and express only in cells carrying a single active gene copy, as is sometimes the case in established cell lines. The types of base damage causing mutations have been identified in very few cases only, and little is known about the enzymatic mechanisms of mutagenesis. However, chemical mutagenesis in cultured animal cells provide a practical way of testing chemicals and radiations for mutagenicity directly in animal cells, and much has been learned about the mutagenicity of various carcinogenic substances. To date, there is reasonable qualitative agreement between these results and those obtained in the widely used liver microsome-activated bacterial mutagenesis test systems.[1]


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