Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are almost ubiquitous pollutants that may interact with metabolic systems in human tissues and eventually cause cancer. PAH-adducted DNA becomes antigenic and antibodies anti-benzo(a)pyrene diol epoxide (BPDE)-DNA may be found in serum of PAH-exposed subjects. The presence of serum antibodies anti-BPDE-DNA adduct was investigated in 1345 individuals from family clusters of the general population of a small area in central Italy in whom information about smoking habits, site of residence, and personal and family history of lung diseases, including cancer, were obtained. Anti-BPDE-DNA antibodies in the sera were detected with a direct ELISA and the association of anti-BPDE-DNA antibodies with subjects' data from a standardized respiratory questionnaire including age, occupation, tobacco smoking habits, respiratory symptoms, and family history of respiratory diseases was subsequently tested by multivariate logistic regression analysis. The overall prevalence of subjects with anti-BPDE-DNA antibodies was 21.0% (n = 283), with no differences between males and females. Anti-BPDE-DNA positivity was associated with living in the urban area [odds ratio (OR), 1.49; 95% confidence interval (CI), 1.16–1.92], with active tobacco smoking (OR, 1.25; 95% CI, 1.06–1.48), and with family history of lung cancer (OR, 1.30; 95% CI, 0.90–1.88), and positivity increased with the number of members in the family cluster positive to anti-BPDE-DNA antibodies (OR, 1.30; 95% CI, 1.03–1.65). This study on a large general population sample indicates that serum anti-BPDE-DNA antibodies may be considered as biomarkers of exposure to environmental carcinogens and of DNA damage. The genetic and familial components of their association with tobacco smoking lend further support to the argument about the familial predisposition to lung cancer.

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This work was supported by funds from CNR Special Project “Applicazioni Cliniche della Ricerca Oncologica” and CNR-ENEL Project “Interactions of the Energy System with Human Health and Environment,” Rome, Italy.

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