Journal Article

Threshold mechanisms and site specificity in chromium(VI) carcinogenesis

Silvio De Flora

in Carcinogenesis

Volume 21, issue 4, pages 533-541
Published in print April 2000 | ISSN: 0143-3334
Published online April 2000 | e-ISSN: 1460-2180 | DOI:
Threshold mechanisms and site specificity in chromium(VI) carcinogenesis

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Ten years have elapsed since the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) evaluated the carcinogenicity of chromium and chromium compounds. Further studies performed during the last decade have provided further epidemiological, experimental and mechanistic data which support the IARC conclusions. A wealth of results indicate that, at variance with chromium(0) and chromium(III), chromium(VI) can induce a variety of genetic and related effects in vitro. The lack of carcinogenicity of chromium(0) and chromium(III) compounds in experimental animals is well established, and only a minority of animal carcinogenicity data with chromium(VI) compounds were positive (30 out of 70, i.e. 42.9%). Moreover, most positive studies used administration routes which do not mimic any human exposure and by-pass physiological defense mechanisms. Typically, positive results were only obtained at implantation sites and at the highest dose tested. Exposure to chromium(VI) has been known for more than a century to be associated with induction of cancer in humans. Carcinogenicity requires massive exposures, as is only encountered in well defined occupational settings, and is site specific, being specifically targeted to the lung and, in some cases, to the sinonasal cavity. Increased death rates for cancers at other sites, which were occasionally reported in some epidemiological studies, were almost invariably not statistically significant, and inconsistent (being counterbalanced by other studies which apparently showed decreased rates for the same cancers). As we recently quantified in human body compartments, chromium(VI) can be reduced in body fluids and non-target cells, which results in its detoxification, due to the poor ability of chromium(III) to cross cell membranes. In target cells, chromium(VI) tends to be metabolized by a network of mechanisms leading to generation of reduced chromium species and reactive oxygen species, which will result either in activation or in detoxification depending on the site of the intracellular reduction and its proximity to DNA. When introduced by the oral route, chromium(VI) is efficiently detoxified upon reduction by saliva and gastric juice, and sequestration by intestinal bacteria. If some chromium(VI) is absorbed by the intestine, it is massively reduced in the blood of the portal system and then in the liver. These mechanisms explain the lack of genotoxicity, carcinogenicity, and induction of other long-term health effects of chromium (VI) by the oral route. Within the respiratory tract, chromium(VI) is reduced in the epithelial-lining fluid, pulmonary alveolar macrophages, bronchial tree and peripheral lung parenchyma cells. Hence, lung cancer can only be induced when chromium(VI) doses overwhelm these defense mechanisms. The efficient uptake and reduction of chromium(VI) in red blood cells explains its lack of carcinogenicity at a distance from the portal of entry into the body. All experimental and epidemiological data, and the underlying mechanisms, point to the occurrence of thresholds in chromium(VI) carcinogenesis.

Keywords: CSC, cigarette smoke condensate; ELF, epithelial-lining fluid; GSH, reduced glutathione; IARC, International Agency for Research on Cancer; PAM, pulmonary alveolar macrophages; RBC, red blood cells; USEPA, US Environmental Protection Agency.

Journal Article.  8677 words. 

Subjects: Clinical Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics

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