Mutagenesis by N-nitroso compounds: relationships to DNA adducts, DNA repair, and mutational efficiencies

Mutat Res. Nov-Dec 1990;233(1-2):177-87. doi: 10.1016/0027-5107(90)90161-v.


The relationships between DNA alkylation, DNA repair and mutagenesis by N-nitroso compounds in Salmonella were examined. DNA adducts formed by treatment of the bacteria with N-nitroso compounds were monitored. Critical to the study was establishing which adducts led to mutations. Two methods were employed. In one, correlations in the dose-responses for adducts and mutagenesis were sought. For instance O6-methyl- and -ethyl-guanine, in contrast to other adducts, exhibited thresholds in their accumulation in Salmonella DNA, and mutagenesis at GC base pairs also exhibited the same threshold, suggesting a dependence of mutagenesis on the O6-alkylguanines. In the second method, mutagenesis induced by different mutagens with overlapping adduct spectra was compared. For example, EMS and ENU generate similar ratios of adenine adducts, but only ENU produces thymine adducts, and only ENU induced AT-GC and AT-CG base changes. These observations suggested that ethylthymines led to these mutations. Furthermore, it was found that these mutations were largely dependent on the presence of the plasmid, pKM101, indicating that error-prone repair activity contributes importantly in their processing to mutations. When DNA adducts by N-nitrosopyrrolidine were examined it was found that only one major adduct was detected in an excision-repair-deficient strain, and that this adduct was not present in a repair-proficient strain. Mutagenesis was also greatly reduced in the proficient strain, suggesting that mutagenesis was dependent on this adduct. From the relationships between premutagenic adduct levels and mutagenesis it was possible to calculate estimated values for the mutational efficiencies for several adducts. This calculation assumed an average distribution of adducts and mutations and required knowledge of the target size and the types of mutations that could lead to phenotypic changes. For the unrepaired O6-methyl- and -ethyl-guanines, and the O-ethylthymines the mutational efficiencies were high (ca. 30-70%), but for the N-nitrosopyrrolidine adduct it was low (ca. 1%). Initial studies were carried out on the mutational specificities of two higher homologue N-nitroso compounds (the N-nitroso-N-propyl- and N-butyl-nitroguanidines) in uvrB/pKM101 strains. This class of nitroso compounds is known to form similar DNA adducts as ENU. Their specificities were similar to that of N-nitroso-N-ethylurea at a high dose except the fraction of mutations at AT base pairs was reduced. The fraction of GC-CG transversions was although low, increased. The mutational specificities of N-nitroso-N-methylurea and N-nitrosopyrrolidine were significantly different from the specificity of E

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Alkylation
  • DNA Damage*
  • DNA Repair*
  • DNA, Bacterial / metabolism
  • Ethylnitrosourea / toxicity
  • Mutagenesis*
  • N-Nitrosopyrrolidine / toxicity
  • Nitroso Compounds / toxicity*


  • DNA, Bacterial
  • Nitroso Compounds
  • Ethylnitrosourea
  • N-Nitrosopyrrolidine