Aristolochic acid I (AAI), a nitrophenanthrene derivative, is the major component of the carcinogenic plant extract aristolochic acid, which has been used as a medicine since antiquity. Long term oral administration of AAI to male Wistar rats induces multiple tumors, mainly in the forestomach, ear duct, and small intestine. The presence of activated transforming genes was investigated in various tumors of 18 AAI treated rats, namely in 14 squamous cell carcinomas of the forestomach, 7 squamous cell carcinomas of the ear duct, 8 tumors of the small intestine, 3 tumors of the pancreas, 1 adenocarcinoma of the kidney, 1 lymphoma, and 2 metastases in the lung and the pancreas. By utilizing the tumorigenicity assay and Southern blot analysis, we have detected an activated c-Ha-ras gene in the DNAs of 5 of 5 squamous cell carcinomas of the forestomach. Direct sequencing of amplified material revealed an AT → TA transversion mutation at the second position of codon 61 of the c-Ha-ras gene (CAA to CTA) in all transfectants as well as in the 5 original rat tumors. Enzymatic amplification of ras sequences followed by selective oligonucleotide hybridization detected identical mutations in 93% (13 of 14) of forestomach tumors, in 100% (7 of 7) of ear duct tumors, and in the lung metastasis. Among those tumors tested, we had 4 cases in which the forestomach tumors and the ear duct tumors originated from the same rat, showing the same mutation in both tissues.

Moreover, similar mutations were demonstrated at c-Ki-ras codon 61 in 1 of 7 ear duct tumors (CAA to CAT) and in 1 of 8 tumors of the small intestine (CAA to CTA) as well as at c-N-ras 61 (CAA to CTA) in a pancreatic metastasis. Additional transfection experiments of some tumors scoring negative for ras gene mutations in dot blot analyses revealed a CAA to CTA transversion at codon 61 of the c-Ha-ras gene in 1 forestomach tumor as well as at codon 61 of the c-N-ras in 1 hyperplasia of the pancreas and in 1 lymphoma. The apparent selectivity for mutations at adenine residues in AAI induced tumors is consistent with the identification of an N6-deoxyadenosine-AAI adduct formed by reaction of AAI with DNA in vitro, suggesting that carcinogen-deoxyadenosine adducts are the critical lesions in the tumor initiation by aristolochic acid.

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This work was supported in part by a grant from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft to C. R. B.

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