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

Benzene induces gene-duplicating but not gene-inactivating mutations at the glycophorin A locus in exposed humans.

Occupational exposure to benzene is known to cause leukemia, but the mechanism remains unclear. Unlike most other carcinogens, benzene and its metabolites are weakly or nonmutagenic in most simple gene mutation assays. Benzene and its metabolites do, however, produce chromosomal damage in a variety of systems. Here, we have used the glycophorin A ( GPA) gene loss mutation assay to evaluate the nature of DNA damage produced by benzene in 24 workers heavily exposed to benzene and 23 matched control individuals in Shanghai, China. The GPA assay identifies stem cell or precursor erythroid cell mutations expressed in peripheral erythrocytes of MN-heterozygous subjects, distinguishing the NN and N phi mutant variants. A significant increase in the NN GPA variant cell frequency (Vf) was found in benzene-exposed workers as compared with unexposed control individuals (mean +/- SEM, 13.9 +/- 1.7 per million cells vs. 7.4 +/- 1.1 per million cells in control individuals; P = 0.0002). In contrast, no significant difference existed between the two groups for the N phi Vf (9.1 +/- 0.9 vs. 8.8 +/- 1.8 per million cells; P = 0.21). Further, lifetime cumulative occupational exposure to benzene was associated with the NN Vf (P = 0.005) but not with the N phi Vf (P = 0.31), suggesting that NN mutations occur in longer-lived bone marrow stem cells. NN variants result from loss of the GPA M allele and duplication of the N allele, presumably through recombination mechanisms, whereas NO variants arise from gene inactivation, presumably due to point mutations and deletions. Thus, these results suggest that benzene produces gene-duplicating mutations but does not produce gene-inactivating mutations at the GPA locus in bone marrow cells of humans exposed to high benzene levels. This finding is consistent with data on the genetic toxicology of benzene and its metabolites and adds further weight to the hypothesis that chromosome damage and mitotic recombination are important in benzene-induced leukemia.[1]


  1. Benzene induces gene-duplicating but not gene-inactivating mutations at the glycophorin A locus in exposed humans. Rothman, N., Haas, R., Hayes, R.B., Li, G.L., Wiemels, J., Campleman, S., Quintana, P.J., Xi, L.J., Dosemeci, M., Titenko-Holland, N. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. (1995) [Pubmed]
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