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, 457 (1-2), 15-30

Induction of Chromosome Aberrations in Vitro by Phenolphthalein: Mechanistic Studies


Induction of Chromosome Aberrations in Vitro by Phenolphthalein: Mechanistic Studies

M J Armstrong et al. Mutat Res.


Phenolphthalein induces tumors in rodents but because it is negative in assays for mutation in Salmonella and in mammalian cells, for DNA adducts and for DNA strand breaks, its primary mechanism does not seem to be DNA damage. Chromosome aberration (Ab) induction by phenolphthalein in vitro is associated with marked cytotoxicity. At very high doses, phenolphthalein induces weak increases in micronuclei (MN) in mouse bone marrow; a larger response is seen with chronic treatment. All this suggests genotoxicity is a secondary effect that may not occur at lower doses. In heterozygous TSG-p53((R)) mice, phenolphthalein induces lymphomas and also MN, many with kinetochores (K), implying chromosome loss. Induction of aneuploidy would be compatible with the loss of the normal p53 gene seen in the lymphomas. Here we address some of the postulated mechanisms of genotoxicity in vitro, including metabolic activation, inhibition of thymidylate synthetase, cytotoxicity, oxidative stress, DNA damage and aneuploidy. We show clearly that phenolphthalein does not require metabolic activation by S9 to induce Abs. Inhibition of thymidylate synthetase is an unlikely mechanism, since thymidine did not prevent Ab induction by phenolphthalein. Phenolphthalein dramatically inhibited DNA synthesis, in common with many non-DNA reactive chemicals that induce Abs at cytotoxic doses. Phenolphthalein strongly enhances levels of intracellular oxygen radicals (ROS). The radical scavenger DMSO suppresses phenolphthalein-induced toxicity and Abs whereas H(2)O(2) potentiates them, suggesting a role for peroxidative activation. Phenolphthalein did not produce DNA strand breaks in rat hepatocytes or DNA adducts in Chinese hamster ovary (CHO) cells. All the evidence points to an indirect mechanism for Abs that is unlikely to operate at low doses of phenolphthalein. We also found that phenolphthalein induces mitotic abnormalities and MN with kinetochores in vitro. These are also enhanced by H(2)O(2) and suppressed by DMSO. Our findings suggest that induction of Abs in vitro is a high-dose effect in oxidatively stressed cells and may thus have a threshold. There may be more than one mechanism operating in vitro and in vivo, possibly indirect genotoxicity at high doses and also chromosome loss, both of which would likely have a threshold.

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