Assessment of genotoxicity of methyl-tert-butyl ether, benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene to human lymphocytes using comet assay

J Hazard Mater. 2008 May 1;153(1-2):351-6. doi: 10.1016/j.jhazmat.2007.08.053. Epub 2007 Aug 24.


Methyl-tert-butyl ether (MTBE) is a gasoline oxygenate and antiknock additive substituting for lead alkyls currently in use worldwide. Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene (BTEX) are volatile monoaromatic hydrocarbons which are commonly found together in crude petroleum and petroleum products such as gasoline. The aim of this study is to evaluate the genotoxic effects of these tested chemicals in human lymphocytes. Using the alkaline comet assay, we showed that all of the tested chemicals induce DNA damage in isolated human lymphocytes. This effect could follow from the induction of DNA strands breaks. The neutral version of the test revealed that MTBE, benzene, and xylenes induce DNA double-strand breaks at 200 microM. Apart from MTBE, the spin traps, 5,5-dimethyl-pyrroline-N-oxide (DMPO) and N-tert-butyl-alpha-phenylnitrone (PBN) can decrease the level of DNA damage in BTEX at 200 microM. This indicated that DNA damage could result from the participation of free radicals in DNA-damaging effect, which was further supported by the fact that post-treatment of formamidopyrimidine-DNA glycosylase (Fpg), enzyme recognizing oxidized DNA purines, gave rise to a significant increase in the extent of DNA damage in cells treated with benzene, and xylene at 200 microM. The results obtained suggested that MTBE and BTEX could induce a variety type of DNA damage such as single-strand breaks (SSBs), double-strand breaks (DSBs), and oxidative base modification.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Comet Assay
  • Cyclic N-Oxides / pharmacology
  • DNA Breaks, Double-Stranded* / drug effects
  • DNA Breaks, Single-Stranded* / drug effects
  • DNA Repair
  • Environmental Pollutants / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Free Radical Scavengers / pharmacology
  • Humans
  • Hydrocarbons, Aromatic / toxicity*
  • Lymphocytes
  • Methyl Ethers / toxicity*


  • Cyclic N-Oxides
  • Environmental Pollutants
  • Free Radical Scavengers
  • Hydrocarbons, Aromatic
  • Methyl Ethers
  • methyl tert-butyl ether
  • phenyl-N-tert-butylnitrone
  • 5,5-dimethyl-1-pyrroline-1-oxide