Molecular genetics and epidemiology of the NAT1 and NAT2 acetylation polymorphisms

Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2000 Jan;9(1):29-42.


The focus of this review is the molecular genetics, including consensus NAT1 and NAT2 nomenclature, and cancer epidemiology of the NAT1 and NAT2 acetylation polymorphisms. Two N-acetyltransferase isozymes, NAT1 and NAT2, are polymorphic and catalyze both N-acetylation (usually deactivation) and O-acetylation (usually activation) of aromatic and heterocyclic amine carcinogens. Epidemiological studies suggest that the NAT1 and NAT2 acetylation polymorphisms modify risk of developing urinary bladder, colorectal, breast, head and neck, lung, and possibly prostate cancers. Associations between slow NAT2 acetylator genotypes and urinary bladder cancer and between rapid NAT2 acetylator genotypes and colorectal cancer are the most consistently reported. The individual risks associated with NAT1 and/or NAT2 acetylator genotypes are small, but they increase when considered in conjunction with other susceptibility genes and/or aromatic and heterocyclic amine carcinogen exposures. Because of the relatively high frequency of some NAT1 and NAT2 genotypes in the population, the attributable cancer risk may be high. The effect of NAT1 and NAT2 genotype on cancer risk varies with organ site, probably reflecting tissue-specific expression of NAT1 and NAT2. Ethnic differences exist in NAT1 and NAT2 genotype frequencies that may be a factor in cancer incidence. Large-scale molecular epidemiological studies that investigate the role of NAT1 and NAT2 genotypes and/or phenotypes together with other genetic susceptibility gene polymorphisms and biomarkers of carcinogen exposure are necessary to expand our current understanding of the role of NAT1 and NAT2 acetylation polymorphisms in cancer risk.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acetylation
  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase / genetics*
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • Carcinogens / metabolism
  • Colonic Neoplasms / etiology
  • Ethnicity / genetics
  • Genetic Predisposition to Disease
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Isoenzymes / genetics*
  • Molecular Biology
  • Molecular Epidemiology
  • Phenotype
  • Polymorphism, Genetic / genetics*
  • Rectal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Terminology as Topic
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / etiology


  • Biomarkers
  • Carcinogens
  • Isoenzymes
  • Arylamine N-Acetyltransferase
  • N-acetyltransferase 1
  • NAT2 protein, human