Characterization of N-nitrosourea-induced tumors of the nervous system; their prospective value for studies of neurocarcinogenesis and brain tumor therapy

Toxicol Pathol. 1990;18(1 Pt 2):186-92. doi: 10.1177/019262339001800124.


Two decades of research with resorptive neurocarcinogens firmly established the high potency of methyl and ethylnitrosourea (MNU and ENU) as neurocarcinogens, particularly in rats. There are significant differences in susceptibility to these agents among species. There are also differences among age groups. Fetuses are between 50 to 100 times more susceptible than adult rats. One single iv inoculation of 20-50 mg/kg ENU into pregnant rats may produce neurogenic tumors in 100% of the offspring. The tumors produced by these compounds have been well characterized morphologically, biologically, biochemically and histochemically. Tumors produced by both compounds are mostly gliomas and neurinomas (Schwannomas), however, clear differences exist between ENU and MNU produced neoplasms. Transplacental exposure to ENU generally results in a high number of anaplastic neurinomas and mostly differentiated gliomas (astrocytomas, oligodendrogliomas or mixed gliomas). In contrast, multiple exposures of adult rats to MNU result in a moderate number of mostly differentiated neurinomas and a high number of anaplastic gliomas. Tumors usually start out as well differentiated oligodendrogliomas or astrocytomas. As they grow larger, they become more mixed and anaplastic. In contrast to spontaneous gliomas in old rats, MNU and ENU-induced astrocytomas can be readily identified with well established biomarkers such as the S100 protein and particularly GFAP (glial fibrillary acidic protein). Neurinomas are also strongly positive for S100 protein. No reliable markers exist for oligodendrogliomas. Neurogenic tumors induced by MNU or ENU, as well as derived cell lines and clones from such tumors, have been successfully used as models for neurocarcinogenesis and therapeutic screening.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Neoplasms / chemically induced
  • Brain Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Brain Neoplasms / therapy
  • Nervous System / drug effects
  • Nervous System Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Nervous System Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Nervous System Neoplasms / therapy
  • Nitrosourea Compounds / toxicity*
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rats
  • Rats, Inbred Strains


  • Nitrosourea Compounds