Occurrence, identification, and bacterial mutagenicity of heterocyclic amines in cooked food

Mutat Res. Mar-Apr 1991;259(3-4):205-17. doi: 10.1016/0165-1218(91)90118-6.


Potent mutagenic activity in Salmonella bacteria has been reported in cooked foods in numerous laboratories worldwide. Determining the human risk from exposure to these biologically active compounds in our diet requires genotoxic and carcinogenic evaluation of the chemicals coupled with determination of the dose consumed. Thus, knowledge of the exact structure of the mutagens present in the food and enough synthesized material for biological assessment are essential for this evaluation. To reach this goal, isolation of these compounds requires the Ames/Salmonella assay to guide the purification and identification process. Mass and NMR spectrometry are used to identify the isolated compounds. Finally, these findings are followed by synthesis of the exact isomer. The predominant class of mutagens found in cooked foods of the western diet are amino-imidazo-quinoxalines, amino-imidazo-pyridines and amino-imidazo-quinolines, collectively called amino-imidazoazaarenes (AIAs). Mass amounts of these specific compounds range from less than 1 to 70 ng/g of meat. The mutagens are formed from the heating of natural precursors (creatinine, amino acids, and possibly sugars) in the food. These AIAs are some of the most potent mutagens ever tested in Salmonella bacteria with the number and position of methyl groups having an important influence on the mutagenic activity.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amines / analysis
  • Amines / toxicity*
  • Cooking*
  • Food Analysis*
  • Heterocyclic Compounds / analysis
  • Heterocyclic Compounds / toxicity*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Mass Spectrometry
  • Meat
  • Mutagenicity Tests
  • Mutagens* / analysis
  • Salmonella / drug effects


  • Amines
  • Heterocyclic Compounds
  • Mutagens