Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-DNA adducts in humans: relevance as biomarkers for exposure and cancer risk

Mutat Res. 1998 May 25;400(1-2):215-31. doi: 10.1016/s0027-5107(98)00065-7.


The methodology applied for DNA adducts in humans has become more reliable in recent years, allowing to detect even background carcinogenic adduct levels in environmentally exposed persons. Particularly, combinations of the various methods now allow the elucidation of specific adduct structures with detection limits of 1 adduct in 108 unmodified nucleotides or even lower. The quantification of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon-DNA (PAH-DNA) adducts in human tissues and cells has been achieved with a number of highly sensitive techniques: immunoassays and immunocytochemistry using polyclonal or monoclonal antisera specific for DNA adducts or modified DNA, the assay, and adduct identification using physicochemical instrumentation. The results summarized in this review show that PAH-DNA adducts have been detected in a variety of human tissues, including target organs of PAH- and tobacco-associated cancers. Although dosimetry has not always been precise, a large number of data now clearly show that lowering exposure to carcinogenic PAH results in decreasing PAH-DNA adduct levels. In most studies, however, bulk DNA of a certain tissue or cell type has been examined, and there were relatively few studies in which mutations as a consequence of DNA damage at specific genes have been investigated. Promising as these biomarker studies seem for epidemiology and health surveillance, future biomonitoring and molecular epidemiological studies should be directed to combine several endpoint measurements: i.e., adduct formation (preferably at specific sites), mutational spectra in cancer-relevant genes, and genetic markers of (cancer) susceptibility in a number of cancer-predisposing genes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biomarkers / analysis
  • DNA Adducts / adverse effects*
  • DNA Adducts / analysis*
  • Environmental Exposure / adverse effects*
  • Environmental Exposure / analysis*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / chemically induced*
  • Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / adverse effects*
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons / analysis*
  • Risk Assessment


  • Biomarkers
  • DNA Adducts
  • Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons