The aim of this study was to assess DNA repair capacity in lymphocytes of children with protein calorie malnutrition using the single-cell gel electrophoresis (comet) assay. Repair capacity was assessed by estimating the relative decrease of DNA migration length 5, 15, 30, and 60 min after hydrogen peroxide treatment, in three groups of children: well-nourished (WN), well-nourished infected (WN-I), and malnourished infected (MN-I). In addition, the DNA migration length was evaluated in all groups before and after peroxide treatment. Comparison of mean migration lengths observed in WN and WN-I children showed significant differences at all times tested; between WN-I and MN-I differences were also observed, except after hydrogen peroxide exposure. This implies that lymphocytes of WN-I and MN-I children were equally sensitive to hydrogen peroxide. Nevertheless, the MN-I group clearly shows the greatest overall percentage of damaged cells at all times tested. In relation to repair capacity, at 5 min it was approximately 30% in both groups of well-nourished children, but only 20% in MN-I; 15 min after exposure, repair capacity increased to 51% in well-nourished children but only to 31% in MN-I; and at 60 min this capacity increased to 82% in well-nourished but only to 55% in MN-I. These data indicate that lymphocytes of malnourished children show a decreased capacity to repair hydrogen peroxide-induced DNA damage compared to that of well-nourished controls. This reflects that only malnutrition is associated with decreased DNA repair capacity. Additionally, the data confirm that severe infection and malnutrition are two factors clearly associated with increased DNA damage.
Copyright 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.