An overview of benzene metabolism

Environ Health Perspect. 1996 Dec;104 Suppl 6(Suppl 6):1165-71. doi: 10.1289/ehp.961041165.


Benzene toxicity involves both bone marrow depression and leukemogenesis caused by damage to multiple classes of hematopoietic cells and a variety of hematopoietic cell functions. Study of the relationship between the metabolism and toxicity of benzene indicates that several metabolites of benzene play significant roles in generating benzene toxicity. Benzene is metabolized, primarily in the liver, to a variety of hydroxylated and ring-opened products that are transported to the bone marrow where subsequent secondary metabolism occurs. Two potential mechanisms by which benzene metabolites may damage cellular macromolecules to induce toxicity include the covalent binding of reactive metabolites of benzene and the capacity of benzene metabolites to induce oxidative damage. Although the relative contributions of each of these mechanisms to toxicity remains unestablished, it is clear that different mechanisms contribute to the toxicities associated with different metabolites. As a corollary, it is unlikely that benzene toxicity can be described as the result of the interaction of a single metabolite with a single biological target. Continued investigation of the metabolism of benzene and its metabolites will allow us to determine the specific combination of metabolites as well as the biological target(s) involved in toxicity and will ultimately lead to our understanding of the relationship between the production of benzene metabolites and bone marrow toxicity.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Benzene / metabolism*
  • Benzene / pharmacokinetics
  • Benzene / toxicity*
  • Biotransformation
  • Bone Marrow / drug effects
  • DNA Adducts / chemistry
  • DNA Adducts / metabolism
  • Humans
  • In Vitro Techniques
  • Leukemia / chemically induced
  • Microsomes, Liver / metabolism
  • Molecular Structure
  • Oxidative Stress


  • DNA Adducts
  • Benzene