Positive results in the in vitro assay for chromosome aberrations sometimes occur with test chemicals that apparently do not react with DNA, being negative in tests for mutation in bacteria, for DNA strand breaks, and for covalent binding to DNA. These chromosome aberrations typically occur over a narrow concentration range at toxic doses, and with mitotic inhibition. Indirect mechanisms, including oxidative damage, cytotoxicity and inhibition of DNA synthesis induced by chemical exposure, may be involved. Understanding when such mechanisms are operating is important in evaluating potential mutagenic hazards, since the effects may occur only above a certain threshold dose. Here, we used two-parameter flow cytometry to assess DNA synthesis inhibition (uptake of bromodeoxyuridine [BrdUrd]) associated with the induction of aberrations in CHO cells by DNA-reactive and non-reactive chemicals, and to follow cell cycle progression. Aphidicolin (APC), a DNA polymerase inhibitor, induces aberrations without reacting with DNA; 50 microM APC suppressed BrdUrd uptake during a 3-h treatment to <10% of control levels. Several new drug candidates induced aberrations concomitant with marked reductions in cell counts at 20 h (to 50-60% of controls) and suppression of BrdUrd uptake (<15% of control). Several non-mutagenic chemicals and a metabolic poison, which induce DNA double strand breaks and chromosome aberrations at toxic dose levels, also suppressed DNA synthesis. In contrast, the alkylating agents 4-nitroquinoline-1-oxide, mitomycin C, methylnitrosourea, ethylnitrosourea, methylmethane sulfonate and ethylmethane sulfonate, and a topoisomerase II inhibitor, etoposide, produced many aberrations at concentrations that were less toxic (cell counts >/=73% of controls) and gave little inhibition of DNA synthesis during treatment (BrdUrd uptake >/=85% of controls), although cell cycle delay was seen following the 3-h treatment. Thus, inhibition of DNA synthesis at the time of treatment is supporting evidence for an indirect mechanism of aberrations, when there is no direct DNA reactivity.
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