Genetic damage and repair in human rectal cells for biomonitoring: sex differences, effects of alcohol exposure, and susceptibilities in comparison to peripheral blood lymphocytes

Mutat Res. 2004 Jul 13;551(1-2):127-34. doi: 10.1016/j.mrfmmm.2004.03.007.


Introduction: Cells other than lymphocytes may be preferable as surrogate biomarkers during exposure monitoring. In nutritional toxicology, cells from colorectal tissues are particularly relevant for studying associations between food and cancer. Thus, we have previously shown that colonic cells of males have higher levels of DNA damage than females, which (among other factors) could be due to a higher consumption of alcoholic beverages by males. To test this hypothesis, we have performed a first exploratory study to compare DNA damage in rectal cells from biopsies of male patients with alcohol abuse and of male and female controls. Peripheral blood lymphocytes were additionally monitored to assess systemic exposure loads.

Methods: Cells were isolated and subjected to microgelelectrophoresis +/- endonuclease III to measure DNA breaks and oxidized pyrimidine bases ("comet-assay"). Cell aliquots were treated with H(2)O(2) for 5min in suspension culture and processed immediately or after 60min to determine induced damage and its persistence.

Results: Pooled data from subjects of all groups revealed that oxidative DNA damage in rectal cells directly correlated to damage in lymphocytes. Female controls had lower levels of DNA damage than male controls, confirming the previous studies. An unexpected result was that male alcohol abusers had significantly less genetic damage than male controls. Also, repair was detected in lymphocytes of male alcohol abusers and female controls, but not in male controls.

Conclusion: This is the first time the comet-assay has been used to detect genotoxicity in human rectal cells as a biomonitoring tool. Our pilot study confirms earlier reports on sex differences and indicates a good correlation between damage in rectal cells and damage in lymphocytes and implies that alcohol exposure enhances endogenous defence.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking*
  • Biomarkers
  • Comet Assay
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Repair
  • Disease Susceptibility
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphocytes / ultrastructure
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pilot Projects
  • Rectum / cytology*
  • Rectum / ultrastructure
  • Sex Factors*


  • Biomarkers