Genetic traits that confer increased susceptibility to DNA and chromosomal damage from reactive epoxide and peroxides could be important individual risk factors in the development of human cancers. To provide an index of individual sensitivity to expoxides, we previously studied sister chromatid exchange (SCE) induction in peripheral blood lymphocytes and identified a trait involving sensitivity to chromosomal damage by monoepoxybutene and diepoxybutane (DEB), both potential carcinogenic metabolites of 1,3-butadiene. Individuals sensitive to DEB induction of SCEs also had an increased number of background or "spontaneous" SCEs. The present investigation was conducted to test whether a newly described deletion polymorphism in the glutathione S-transferase class theta (GSTT1) was significantly associated with the previously described inherited chromosomal sensitivity to DEB. The background and DEB-induced SCE frequencies in peripheral blood lymphocytes from 78 healthy volunteers were determined with the use of fluorescence plus Giemsa staining. The presence or absence of the homozygous deletion of the GSTT1 gene was determined for each participant using PCR methods. In the present study, we report a close correlation of the DEB sensitivity trait with the novel polymorphism in GSTT1. The GSTT1 polymorphism was also highly associated with the background frequencies of SCE. These studies raise the possibility that DBE is a substrate for GST-theta. Individuals who carry a homozygous deletion of the GSTT1 gene may be at increased risk for genotoxic damage from environmental or occupational 1,3-butadiene exposures. The association of the GSTT1 deletion polymorphism with increases in background SCEs indicates that substrates for this isozyme are encountered commonly in the environment or are endogenous in nature.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 250 WORDS)

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