Molecular epidemiology studies of carcinogenic environmental pollutants. Effects of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) in environmental pollution on exogenous and oxidative DNA damage

Mutat Res. 2003 Nov;544(2-3):397-402. doi: 10.1016/j.mrrev.2003.09.002.


Exposure to high levels of environmental air pollution is known to be associated with an increased carcinogenic risk. The individual contribution to this risk derived from specific carcinogenic chemicals within the complex mixture of air pollution is less certain, but may be explored by the use of molecular epidemiological techniques. Measurements of biomarkers of exposure, of effect and of susceptibility provide information of potential benefit for epidemiological and cancer risk assessment. The application of such techniques has been mostly concerned in the past with the carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (c-PAHs) that are associated with particulate matter in air pollution, and has showed clear evidence of genotoxic effects, such as DNA adducts, chromosome aberrations (CA) and ras oncogene overexpression, in environmentally exposed Czech and Polish populations. We are currently extending these studies by an investigation of populations exposed to environmental pollution in three European countries, Czech Republic, Slovak Republic and Bulgaria. This pays particular attention to PAHs, but also investigates the extent of radically induced (oxidative) DNA damage in the exposed populations. Policemen, bus drivers and controls, who carried personal monitors to determine their exposures to PAHs have been studied, and blood and urine were collected. Antioxidant and dietary status were assessed in these populations. Stationary monitors were also used for ambient air monitoring. Amongst the parameters studied in the biological samples were: (a) exposure biomarkers, such as PAH adducts with DNA, p53 and p21(WAF1) protein levels, (b) oxidative DNA damage, (c) the biological effect of the exposure by measurement of chromosome damage by fluorescence in situ hybridisation (FISH) or conventional methods, and (d) polymorphisms in carcinogen metabolising and DNA repair enzymes. Repair ability was also measured by the Comet assay. In vitro systems are being evaluated to characterise the genotoxicity of the organic compounds adsorbed to air particles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biomarkers
  • Carcinogens / toxicity*
  • DNA Damage / drug effects*
  • DNA Damage / genetics
  • Environmental Exposure
  • Environmental Monitoring / methods
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Environmental Pollution*
  • Epidemiological Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Molecular Epidemiology / methods
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Neoplasms / genetics
  • Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / toxicity*


  • Biomarkers
  • Carcinogens
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons