Search for compounds that inhibit the genotoxic and carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic aromatic amines

Christina E. Schwab, Wolfgang W. Huber, Wolfram Parzefall, Gerhard Hietsch, Fekadu Kassie, Rolf Schulte-Hermann, Siegfried Knasmüller

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

94 Scopus citations


Over the last 30 years approximately 160 reports have been published on dietary compounds that protect from the mutagenic and carcinogenic effects of heterocyclic aromatic amines (HAAs). In the first section of this review, the current state of knowledge is briefly summarized. Based on the evaluation of the available data, various protective mechanisms are described, and the use of different methodologies for the detection of protective effects is critically discussed. In most antimutagenicity studies (>70%) bacterial indicators (predominantly Salmonella strain TA98) were used, and about 600 individual compounds and complex mixtures have been identified that attenuate the effects of HAAs. The most frequently used in vivo method to detect protective effects are adduct measurements; anticarcinogenic dietary factors were identified by aberrant crypt foci assays and liver foci tests with rats. The mechanisms of protection include inactivation of HAAs and their metabolites by direct binding, inhibition of enzymes involved in the metabolic activation of the amines, induction of detoxifying enzymes, and interaction with DNA repair processes. The detection spectrum of conventional in vitro mutagenicity assays with metabolically incompetent indicator cells is limited. These procedures reflect only simple mechanisms such as direct binding of the HAAs to pyrroles and fibers. It has been shown that these compounds are also effective in rodents. More complex mechanisms, namely, interactions with metabolic activation reactions are not adequately represented in in vitro assays with exogenous enzyme homogenates, and false- negative as well as false-positive results may be obtained. More appropriate approaches for the detection of protective effects are recently developed test systems with metabolically competent cells such as the human Hep G2 line or primary hepatocytes. SCGE tests and DNA adduct measurements with laboratory rodents enable the detection of antigenotoxic effects in different organs, including those that are targets for tumor induction by the amines. Medium term assays based on aberrant crypt foci in colon and liver foci tests have been used to prove that certain compounds that prevented DNA damage by HAAs also reduced their carcinogenic effects. These experiments are costly and time consuming and, due to the weak induction capacity of the amines, only pronounced anticarcinogenic effects can be detected. Over the years, a large bulk of data on HAA protective compounds has accumulated, but only for a few (e.g., fibers, pyrroles, constituents of teas, and lactic acid bacteria) is there sufficient evidence to support the assumption that they are protective in humans as well.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-69
Number of pages69
JournalCritical Reviews in Toxicology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
grant FAIR CT973029 from the European Union (to SK).


  • Anticarcinogens
  • Antimutagens
  • Heterocyclic aromatic amines


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