Glutathione S-transferases (GSTs) are members of a multigene family of isoenzymes that are important in the control of oxidative stress and in phase II metabolism. Acting non-enzymically, GSTs can modulate signalling pathways of cell proliferation, cell differentiation and apoptosis. Using a molecular epidemiology approach, we have investigated a potential involvement of GSTs in DNA damage processing, specifically the modulation of DNA repair in a group of 388 healthy adult volunteers; 239 with at least 5 years of occupational exposure to asbestos, stone wool or glass fibre, and 149 reference subjects. We measured DNA damage in lymphocytes using the comet assay (alkaline single cell gel electrophoresis): strand breaks (SBs) and alkali-labile sites, oxidised pyrimidines with endonuclease III, and oxidised purines with formamidopyrimidine DNA glycosylase. We also measured GST activity in erythrocytes, and the capacity for base excision repair (BER) in a lymphocyte extract. Polymorphisms in genes encoding three GST isoenzymes were determined, namely deletion of GSTM1 and GSTT1 and single nucleotide polymorphism Ile105Val in GSTP1. Consumption of vegetables and wine correlated negatively with DNA damage and modulated BER. GST activity correlated with oxidised bases and with BER capacity, and differed depending on polymorphisms in GSTP1, GSTT1 and GSTM1. A significantly lower BER rate was associated with the homozygous GSTT1 deletion in all asbestos site subjects and in the corresponding reference group. Multifactorial analysis revealed effects of sex and exposure in GSTP1 Ile/Val heterozygotes but not in Ile/Ile homozygotes. These variants affected also SBs levels, mainly by interactions of GSTP1 genotype with exposure, with sex, and with smoking habit; and by an interaction between sex and smoking. Our results show that GST polymorphisms and GST activity can apparently influence DNA stability and repair of oxidised bases, suggesting a potential new role for these proteins in DNA damage processing via DNA damage signalling.
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