Cyanide adducts with human plasma proteins: albumin as a potential exposure surrogate

Chem Res Toxicol. 2007 Apr;20(4):677-84. doi: 10.1021/tx6003425. Epub 2007 Mar 21.


Cyanide (CN) is a ubiquitous environmental toxicant. The measurement of CN in whole blood is a common exposure assay, but values are error prone because of CN's rapid metabolism and clearance (t1/2 < 1 h) from this compartment. This study was undertaken to determine whether CN forms covalent adduct(s) with plasma proteins that could serve as stable biomarker(s) and potential surrogate(s) of exposure. When added to human blood, plasma, or serum, CN formed covalent adducts with immunoglobulin G (IgG) and serum albumin (HSA) in the plasma fraction. Covalent adducts were not detected in the cellular, primarily erythrocyte, fraction. With human, mouse, and rabbit IgGs, the reaction with CN occurred at intra- and/or interchain disulfide linkages in the heavy and light chains. Digestion of CN-treated HSA with trypsin or the endoproteinase Lys-C at basic pH produced tautomeric 2-iminothiazoline-4-carboxylyl/2-aminothiazolidine-4-carboxylyl (itcCys) N-terminal peptides exclusively, consistent with prior model peptide/protein studies showing that under basic conditions internal S-cyanylated-Cys residues cyclize with concomitant release of the upstream peptide. The most readily detectable reaction of CN with purified HSA was at Cys34, the only Cys of the 35 present not connected as internal cystines. Because CN does not react with free sulfhydryl groups, it is probable that S-cyanylation at Cys34 occurs at those residues that carry GSH, Cys, or other small molecules as mixed disulfides. Relatively less detectable, modified Cys residues were also identified at positions 53, 124, 392, 477, and 487. When 14CN was added to human serum or whole blood at concentrations spanning a putative nontoxic to lethal range, stable adduct formation with HSA occurred in a linear, concentration-dependent reaction that was complete within 2 h. These attributes of the reaction, coupled with a plasma compartment location, suggest that quantitation of CN bound to HSA would provide a much more reliable assessment of exposure than does measurement of CN in blood.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Blood Proteins / chemistry*
  • Blood Proteins / metabolism*
  • Cyanides / chemistry*
  • Humans


  • Blood Proteins
  • Cyanides