Benzene is an established human leukemogen. Workers occupationally exposed to benzene exhibit increased frequencies of both structural and numerical chromosomal aberrations in their peripheral blood lymphocytes. The metabolite(s) responsible for these chromosomal aberrations has not yet been identified. Using a modified micronucleus assay, we have examined the ability of the metabolites of benzene to induce chromosomal damage in human lymphocytes. An antikinetochore antibody was used to distinguish micronuclei that have a high probability of containing a whole chromosome (kinetochore positive) from those containing acentric fragments (kinetochore negative). In vitro treatments with the benzene metabolites hydroquinone, 1,4-benzoquinone, phenol, and catechol resulted in significant increases in micronuclei formation. Phenol, catechol, and 1,4-benzoquinone treatments resulted in moderate (2- to 5-fold) increases in micronuclei, whereas hydroquinone treatments resulted in a larger (11-fold) increase in micronuclei. Significant dose-related increases in kinetochore-positive micronucleated cells were not observed following 1,4-benzoquinone treatment but were observed following treatment with phenol, catechol, and hydroquinone. The higher efficacy of hydroquinone in inducing both total micronuclei and kinetochore-positive micronucleated cells when compared with catechol, phenol, and 1,4-benzoquinone suggests that hydroquinone is a mjor contributor to the clastogenicity and aneuploidy observed in the lymphocytes of benzene-exposed workers. Other metabolites may also contribute, however, to the genotoxic effects of benzene. Since consistent chromosomal aberrations are often observed in human leukemias, the ability of the phenolic metabolities of benzene to induce chromosomal damage in human cells also implicates them in benzene-induced leukemia.

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Supported by Grants P42ES04705 and P30ES01896 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Work performed in part under the auspices of the United States Department of Energy by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory under Contract W-7405-ENG-48.

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