Metabolism and biomarkers of heterocyclic aromatic amines in molecular epidemiology studies: Lessons learned from aromatic amines

Robert J. Turesky, Loic Le Marchand

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Aromatic amines and heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs) are structurally related classes of carcinogens that are formed during the combustion of tobacco or during the high-temperature cooking of meats. Both classes of procarcinogens undergo metabolic activation by N-hydroxylation of the exocyclic amine group to produce a common proposed intermediate, the arylnitrenium ion, which is the critical metabolite implicated in toxicity and DNA damage. However, the biochemistry and chemical properties of these compounds are distinct, and different biomarkers of aromatic amines and HAAs have been developed for human biomonitoring studies. Hemoglobin adducts have been extensively used as biomarkers to monitor occupational and environmental exposures to a number of aromatic amines; however, HAAs do not form hemoglobin adducts at appreciable levels, and other biomarkers have been sought. A number of epidemiologic studies that have investigated dietary consumption of well-done meat in relation to various tumor sites reported a positive association between cancer risk and well-done meat consumption, although some studies have shown no associations between well-done meat and cancer risk. A major limiting factor in most epidemiological studies is the uncertainty in quantitative estimates of chronic exposure to HAAs, and thus, the association of HAAs formed in cooked meat and cancer risk has been difficult to establish. There is a critical need to establish long-term biomarkers of HAAs that can be implemented in molecular epidemioIogy studies. In this review, we highlight and contrast the biochemistry of several prototypical carcinogenic aromatic amines and HAAs to which humans are chronically exposed. The biochemical properties and the impact of polymorphisms of the major xenobiotic-metabolizing enzymes on the biological effects of these chemicals are examined. Lastly, the analytical approaches that have been successfully employed to biomonitor aromatic amines and HAAs, and emerging biomarkers of HAAs that may be implemented in molecular epidemiology studies are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1169-1214
Number of pages46
JournalChemical research in toxicology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 15 2011


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