Novel 4-Hydroxybenzyl Adducts in Human Hemoglobin: Structures and Mechanisms of Formation

Andrew T. Rajczewski, Lorena Ndreu, Suresh S. Pujari, Timothy J. Griffin, Margareta Törnqvist, Isabella Karlsson, Natalia Y. Tretyakova

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3 Scopus citations


Humans are exposed to large numbers of electrophiles from their diet, the environment, and endogenous physiological processes. Adducts formed at the N-terminal valine of hemoglobin are often used as biomarkers of human exposure to electrophilic compounds. We previously reported the formation of hemoglobin N-terminal valine adducts (added mass, 106.042 Da) in the blood of human smokers and nonsmokers and identified their structure as 4-hydroxybenzyl-Val. In the present work, mass spectrometry-based proteomics was utilized to identify additional sites for 4-hydroxybenzyl adduct formation at internal nucleophilic amino acid side chains within hemoglobin. Hemoglobin isolated from human blood was treated with para-quinone methide (para-QM) followed by global nanoLC-MS/MS and targeted nanoLC-MS/MS to identify amino acid residues containing the 4-hydroxybenzyl modification. Our experiments revealed the formation of 4-hydroxybenzyl adducts at the αHis20, αTyr24, αTyr42, αHis45, βSer72, βThr84, βThr87, βSer89, βHis92, βCys93, βCys112, βThr123, and βHis143 residues (in addition to N-terminal valine) through characteristic MS/MS spectra. These amino acid side chains had variable reactivity toward para-QM with αHis45, αTyr42, βCys93, βHis92, and βSer72 forming the largest numbers of adducts upon exposure to para-QM. Two additional mechanisms for formation of 4-hydroxybenzyl adducts in humans were investigated: exposure to 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde (4-HBA) followed by reduction and UV-mediated reactions of hemoglobin with tyrosine. Exposure of hemoglobin to a 5-fold molar excess of 4-HBA followed by reduction with sodium cyanoborohydride produced 4-hydroxybenzyl adducts at several amino acid side chains of which αHis20, αTyr24, αTyr42, αHis45, βSer44, βThr84, and βHis92 were verified in targeted mass spectrometry experiments. Similarly, exposure of human blood to ultraviolet radiation produced 4-hydroxybenzyl adducts at αHis20, αTyr24, αTyr42, αHis45, βSer44, βThr84, and βSer89. Overall, our results reveal that 4-hydroxybenzyl adducts form at multiple nucleophilic sites of hemoglobin and that para-QM is the most likely source of these adducts in humans.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1769-1781
Number of pages13
JournalChemical research in toxicology
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 19 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was partially sponsored by NIH grants to N.T. (R01-CA100670, R01-CA095039) and special funding for collaborative studies from the Faculty of Stockholm University (Sweden). A.T.R. was supported by Biotechnology Training Grant NIH T32GM008347. L.N. and I.K. were supported by the Swedish Research Council for Sustainable Development (FORMAS 2017-01511) and Birgit and Hellmuth Hertz’ Foundation (Royal Physiographic Society of Lund).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 American Chemical Society.

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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