beta-carotene as enhancer of cell transforming activity of powerful carcinogens and cigarette-smoke condensate on BALB/c 3T3 cells in vitro

Mutat Res. 1999 Mar 15;440(1):83-90. doi: 10.1016/s1383-5718(99)00009-1.


We report the ability of beta-carotene (betaC) to affect the cell transforming activity of 3-methylcholanthrene (3-MCA), benzo(a)pyrene (B(a)P) and cigarette-smoke condensate (TAR) in an in vitro medium-term (approximately 8 weeks) experimental model utilizing BALB/c 3T3 cells. Different experimental schedules were performed either in the presence or absence of betaC: (i) cultures treated for 72 h with each chemical (acute treatment), (ii) cultures grown in presence of each chemical for the whole period of the experiment (chronic treatment). These procedures suggested a possible cocarcinogenic potential of the carotenoid following interactions with other chemicals mimicking continuous human exposition to several xenobiotics. Although the pigment did not show any cell transforming potential when tested alone either in acute or chronic treatment, it did augment that of other tested agents. Induction of cell transformation by B(a)P was markedly enhanced by the presence of this carotenoid in either acute or chronic treatment. Only in presence of betaC, was TAR able to significantly act as a cell transforming agent in prolonged, chronic treatment of cultures. Enhanced cell transformation activity could be due to the boosting effect of betaC on P450 apparatus. Indeed, elsewhere we have found that the latter increased the ratio of formation of diol epoxide carcinogenic metabolites of B(a)P as well as other carcinogens present in TAR. By contrast, no differences of cell transforming activity of 3-MCA, an ultimate carcinogen, were seen either in the presence or absence of betaC under the various experimental conditions. These data, which are in keeping with the cocarcinogenic potential of betaC, may help to explain the unexpected lung cancer increases obtained in chemoprevention trials in heavy smokers supplemented with the isoprenoid. Our findings also highlight the potential risk to humans derived from interactions among xenobiotics present in the environment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 3T3 Cells / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Benzo(a)pyrene / toxicity*
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • Cell Survival / drug effects
  • Cell Transformation, Neoplastic / chemically induced*
  • Clone Cells
  • Cocarcinogenesis
  • Drug Synergism
  • Methylcholanthrene / toxicity*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred BALB C
  • Smoke / adverse effects*
  • beta Carotene / pharmacology*


  • Carcinogens
  • Smoke
  • beta Carotene
  • Benzo(a)pyrene
  • Methylcholanthrene