A critical evaluation of DNA adducts as biological markers for human exposure to polycyclic aromatic compounds

R.W.L. Godschalk*, F.J. van Schooten, H. Bartsch

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


A critical evaluation of DNA adducts as biological markers for human exposure to polycyclic aromatic compounds.

Godschalk RW, Van Schooten FJ, Bartsch H.

Department of Health Risk Analysis and Toxicology, University of Maastricht, 6200 MD Maastricht, The Netherlands. R.Godschalk@grat.unimaas.nl

The causative role of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in human carcinogenesis is undisputed. Measurements of PAH-DNA adduct levels in easily accessible white blood cells therefore represent useful early endpoints in exposure intervention or chemoprevention studies. The successful applicability of DNA adducts as early endpoints depends on several criteria: i. adduct levels in easily accessible surrogate tissues should reflect adduct levels in target-tissues, ii. toxicokinetics and the temporal relevance should be properly defined. iii. sources of interand intra-individual variability must be known and controllable, and finally iv. adduct analyses must have advantages as compared to other markers of PAHexposure. In general, higher DNA adduct levels or a higher proportion of subjects with detectable DNA adduct levels were found in exposed individuals as compared with nonexposed subjects, but saturation may occur at high exposures. Furthermore, DNA adduct levels varied according to changes in exposure, for example smoking cessation resulted in lower DNA adduct levels and adduct levels paralleled seasonal variations of air-pollution. Intraindividual variation during continuous exposure was low over a short period of time (weeks), but varied significantly when longer time periods (months) were investigated. Inter-individual variation is currently only partly explained by genetic polymorphisms in genes involved in PAH-metabolism and deserves further investigation. DNA adduct measurements may have three advantages over traditional exposure assessment: i. they can smooth the extreme variability in exposure which is typical for environmental toxicants and may integrate exposure over a longer period of time. Therefore, DNA adduct assessment may reduce the monitoring effort. ii. biological monitoring of DNA adducts accounts for all exposure routes. iii. DNA adducts may account for inter-individual differences in uptake, elimination, distribution, metabolism and repair amongst exposed individuals. In conclusion, there is now a sufficiently large scientific basis to justify the application of DNA adduct measurements as biomarkers in exposure assessment and intervention studies. Their use in risk-assessment, however, requires further investigation
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003


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