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Br J Cancer. 2000 Jul;83(1):69-73.

Fern spore extracts can damage DNA.

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  • 1CRC Carcinogenesis Group, Paterson Institute for Cancer Research, Christie Hospital, Manchester, UK.


The carcinogenicity of the vegetative tissues of bracken fern (Pteridium) has long been established. More recently, the carcinogenic effects of the spores of bracken have also been recognized. Both vegetative tissues and spores of bracken can induce adducts in DNA in animal tissues, but the possible genotoxic or carcinogenic effects of spores from fern species other than bracken are unknown. The single-cell gel electrophoresis ('comet') assay was used to investigate whether fern spores can cause DNA damage in vitro. Extracts of spores from six fern species were administered to cultured human premyeloid leukaemia (K562) cells. Spore extracts of five fern species: Anemia phyllitidis, Dicksonia antarctica, Pteridium aquilinum, Pteris vittata and Sadleria pallida, induced significantly more DNA strand breaks than those in the control groups. Only in one species, Osmunda regalis, was the effect no different from that in the control groups. Using extracts from A. phyllitidis and P. vittata, the extent of DNA damage was increased by increasing the original dose 10 times, whereas an experiment in which exposure times were varied suggested that the highest levels of strand breaks appear after 2 h exposure. Simultaneous incubation with human S9 liver enzyme mix ablated the damaging effect of the extracts. Our data show that fern spore extracts can cause DNA damage in human cells in vitro. Considering the strong correlation between DNA damage and carcinogenic events, the observations made in this report may well have some implications for human health.

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