The number of bleomycin-induced chromosomal breaks in cultured peripheral blood lymphocytes has been proposed as a measure of the sensitivity of an individual to carcinogens. Although "mutagen sensitivity" (clastogenicity) may be a useful biomarker for the identification of individuals at high risk for DNA damage, there is some uncertainty whether the results of this assay can be modified by environmental factors, such as diet. We designed an intervention study to determine whether micronutrient supplementation with beta-carotene and alpha-tocopherol influenced the mutagenicity score among 22 healthy volunteers. This intervention study followed a double-blind, randomized, cross-over design. Chromatid breaks ranged from 0.30 to 2.30 per cell and were uncorrelated with plasma beta-carotene (r = -0.07; P = 0.50) and a-tocopherol (r = -0.01; P = 0.92) levels, after accounting for the time of the measurement. The average number of breaks per cell was similar (P for difference in means = 0.90) among subjects during periods of vitamin supplementation (mean = 0.87 breaks per cell) and placebo (mean = 0.86 breaks per cell), averaged over groups and after adjustment for baseline breaks. Substantial within-person variation may indicate some imprecision in the mutagen sensitivity assessment. Our results suggest that mutagen sensitivity is not affected by plasma levels of beta-carotene or alpha-tocopherol. Although mutagen sensitivity does not appear to be modified by changes in plasma levels of two common antioxidant vitamins, it may be useful for the identification of high-risk individuals for participation in large intervention studies with cancer outcomes.

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