DNA adduct formation from tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines

Mutat Res. 1999 Mar 8;424(1-2):127-42. doi: 10.1016/s0027-5107(99)00014-7.


Tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines are a group of carcinogens derived from the tobacco alkaloids. They are likely causative factors for cancers of the lung, esophagus, pancreas, and oral cavity in people who use tobacco products. The most carcinogenic tobacco-specific nitrosamines in laboratory animals are 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK), 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanol (NNAL), and N'-nitrosonornicotine (NNN). DNA adduct formation from NNK and NNN has been studied extensively and is reviewed here. NNK is metabolically activated by cytochromes P450 to intermediates which methylate and pyridyloxobutylate DNA. The resulting adducts have been detected in cells and tissues susceptible to NNK carcinogenesis in rodents. The methylation and pyridyloxobutylation pathways are both important in carcinogenesis by NNK. NNK also induces single strand breaks and increases levels of 8-oxodeoxyguanosine in DNA of treated animals. NNAL, which like NNK is a potent pulmonary carcinogen, is also metabolically activated to methylating and pyridyloxobutylating intermediates. NNN pyridyloxobutylates DNA in its rat target tissues, esophagus and nasal mucosa. Methyl and pyridyloxobutyl DNA adducts are detected in human tissues. The methyl adducts most likely result in part from exposure of smokers to NNK, but these adducts are also detected in non-smokers. Some of the methyl adducts detected in non-smokers may be due to environmental tobacco smoke exposure. There are also potential dietary and endogenous sources of these adducts. Pyridyloxobutyl DNA adducts in human tissues result mainly from exposure to tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines. In laboratory animals, DNA adduct formation and carcinogenicity of tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines are closely correlated in many instances, and it is likely that similar relationships will hold in humans.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Cricetinae
  • DNA Adducts / drug effects
  • DNA Damage / drug effects*
  • DNA Methylation
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Nicotiana / adverse effects*
  • Nitrosamines / toxicity*
  • Plants, Toxic*
  • Rats


  • Carcinogens
  • DNA Adducts
  • Nitrosamines