Metabolism of tobacco-specific N-nitrosamines by cultured human tissues

A. Castonguay, G. D. Stoner, H. A.J. Schut, S. S. Hecht

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

101 Scopus citations


N-Nitrosonornicotine (NNN) and 4-(methylnitrosamino)-1-(3-pyridyl)-1-butanone (NNK) are present in cigarette smoke and snuff and are carcinogens in laboratory animals. In tobacco smokers, the buccal mucosa, trachea, esophagus, bronchi, and peripheral lung are exposed to smoke containing significant amounts of these N-nitrosamines. The results of the present study demonstrate that explants of these tissues as well as of the urinary bladder have the capacity to metabolize NNN and NNK by α-carbon hydroxylation. The metabolic pathway yields alkyldiazohydroxides, which are reactive and DNA-damaging electrophiles. The extent of α-carbon hydroxylation of NNN and NNK in human tissues was only 1/10th to 1/100th of that in animal tissues. Although the levels of α-carbon hydroxlation of NNN among different tissues of the same individual were similar, a 10-fold variation among individuals was observed. Reduction of the NNK carbonyl group was a major metabolic pathway observed with all human explants and may occur in the surface epithelia of the respiratory tract of smokers. These results provide further evidence that tobacco-specific N-nitrosamine could play a role in cancers related to the smoking and chewing tobacco.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6694-6697
Number of pages4
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number21 I
StatePublished - 1983

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