Endogenously formed N-nitroso compounds and nitrosating agents in human cancer etiology

Pharmacogenetics. 1992 Dec;2(6):272-7. doi: 10.1097/00008571-199212000-00005.


Humans are exposed to preformed N-nitroso compounds (NOC), but also to a wide range of precursors and nitrosating agents which can react in vivo to form potentially carcinogenic NOC and diazo compounds. Nitrite, nitrate and nitrosating agents can also be synthesized endogenously in enzymic reactions mediated by bacteria, activated macrophages and neutrophils. The latter two cell types generate, via the enzyme nitric oxide synthase, the nitric oxide radical that is involved in cytotoxicity, and is believed to be involved in formation of carcinogenic nitrosamines, DNA base deamination and oxidative damage. Thus endogenous NOC formation, DNA damage and gene mutations in humans could occur at various sites of the body such as the stomach and chronically infected or inflamed organs. Sensitive procedures to estimate the exposure of humans to NOC have been developed and applied in ecological and cross-sectional studies. These have shown that inhabitants of high-risk areas for stomach and esophageal cancer, patients with urinary tract infections (at risk for bladder cancer) and Thai subjects infected with liver fluke (at risk for cholangiocarcinoma) had significantly higher exposure to endogenous NOC. Clinical studies have examined the model of stomach carcinogenesis based on intragastric nitrosation, but the precise roles of bacterial overgrowth and of Helicobacter pylori infection in NOC synthesis and/or inducing oxidative stress in stomach mucosa remain to be clarified. Together these results support the role of NOC and other nitrite-derived mutagens in human cancer etiology, in particular when exposure starts early in life and persists over a long period.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adenoma, Bile Duct / etiology
  • Bile Duct Neoplasms / etiology
  • DNA Damage
  • Esophageal Neoplasms / etiology
  • Humans
  • Mutagens
  • Neoplasms / etiology*
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Nitrosation
  • Nitroso Compounds / adverse effects
  • Nitroso Compounds / metabolism*
  • Risk Factors
  • Stomach Neoplasms / etiology
  • Urinary Bladder Neoplasms / etiology


  • Mutagens
  • Nitroso Compounds